On Nov. 24, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) announced in its newsletter that the University faculty approved a WSA resolution to extend grading mode changes. The new policy will give students an additional two weeks after the drop/add period to decide between pass/fail grading options and graded modes of evaluation for courses that have the option. This will mean that students can take a course for nearly a month before deciding to change the grading mode. The policy change will be effective beginning during the Spring 2014 semester.
The WSA adopted “Resolution X.35: Resolution Supporting the Extension of Grading Mode Changes” on Oct. 6. The resolution emphasizes the fact that during the drop/add period, student schedules are undefined and change quickly depending on course availability. It also suggests that an increased flexibility in selecting grading mode might alleviate student stress, allowing students to make better decisions regarding scheduling. Furthermore, the resolution suggests that giving students extra time to decide whether to take a course pass/fail might improve student success in courses and lead to a decrease in withdrawal rates from courses.
WSA Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) member Rebecca Hutman ’17 noted that classes tend to increase in difficulty as the semester progresses. The addition of two weeks of class time before the deadline for deciding the grading mode will give students a better sense of the rigor of the course. Hutman also emphasized that with the current deadline, students who are not certain of their enrollment in a course might not have enough time to decide on a grading mode.
“This is for that student who gets a notification at 5 p.m. on a Friday that they were admitted into a course, with zero context as to whether or not they should take it pass/fail,” Hutman said.
The WSA has been developing the resolution since the spring of last year. AAC Chair Grant Tanenbaum ’15 spearheaded the passage of the resolution and made it a prominent part of the AAC’s platform this semester. The original proposal for the resolution was submitted to the WSA on May 13 and suggested several different ideas regarding ways to change grading mode. The AAC approved the proposal in October and sent the resolution to the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) for approval. The EPC is a standing committee comprised of Tanenbaum, AAC Vice Chair Nicole Brenner ’15, and several members of the faculty. Once the EPC approved the resolution, it was presented and deliberated upon at a monthly meeting of the faculty. The proceedings of these meetings are kept strictly confidential to maintain the privacy of the students and faculty involved.
Though according to Tanenbaum only about 13 to 17 percent of courses are available for student option, he hopes that this resolution will alleviate some of the stress that students experience during the hectic drop/add period.
“The proposal was written because this seemed to be an unnecessarily restrictive policy that Wesleyan had,” said Tanenbaum. “It neither helped professors nor students nor the administration to have only two weeks to decide how they wanted to take a course. This new policy will give students more freedom about what kind of choices they want to make for their personal schedules.”
WSA President Nicole Updegrove ’14 also approved of the resolution, stating that she agrees that the resolution will make it easier for students to make decisions regarding planning so that they are not overwhelmed by the end of the semester.
“The goal is to decrease stress and to make sure that students end up where they need to be in terms of their courses,” Updegrove said. “All policies surrounding course selection should be set up to do that, but they don’t always succeed. This policy certainly would have helped me in past courses and hopefully will also make student experiences better going forward.”
Philosophy and College of Letters Professor Tushar Irani noted a potential disadvantage in extending the drop/add period for larger classes.
“As a professor within the COL, where students take most of their classes pass/fail, I don’t think that students preform less well than they do when they are taking a course for a grade,” Irani said. “However, it might be a problem for large lecture classes in which students are already less engaged with the material. If to do the reading means to get a good grade, then without a grade, there might no longer be an incentive to do the reading.”
WSA Outreach and External Affairs Committee Chair Jacob Musinsky ’15 said that this resolution, along with those passed by Wes, Divest! and the United Student Labor Coalition (USLAC) earlier this year ,are examples of how students who are committed to enacting policy changes can use the WSA as a resource.
“Anyone can come to us and write a resolution,” Musinsky said. “I wish more people knew they could do that. We passed both the Wes, Divest! and USLAC resolutions, and they both had concrete effects. If someone has a problem with something that’s happening on campus, they should come to the WSA and we can all try to get a resolution passed.”