The Harvard Policy Committee's pass-fail plan, which finally materialized last week after months of discussion, is a sound proposal. Equally important, it is a politic proposal.
Its terms are modest. It would do nothing to change the number of graded courses needed for graduation; it would apply the pass-fail principle only to work done beyond the normal course load. This means the proposal cannot possibly be interpreted as offering people a chance to get away with less work. In fact, it is just what it advertises itself to be: an encouragement to flexibility in an otherwise specialized, competitive college program.
Beyond this simple innovation, of course, there are some exciting educational possibilities, such as introducing pass-fail grading into the four-course load, or abolishing grades entirely. These possibilities deserve more discussion, and the discussion will benefit from a trial run of the HPC plan.
The only danger, as the proposal begins its circuitous route to Faculty approval, is that its merits will be obscured by undue concern with the real, but certainly surmountable, problems of cost and administration. If many students should decide to take advantage of a free fifth course, Harvard might have to pay for additional staff and facilities, or turn pass-fail students away from courses already filled with "regular" students.
These are questions which can best be resolved once the proposal becomes policy and its effect becomes clear. Accepting the HPC's suggestion, regardless of the administrative details, could open a new dimension in education at Harvard. The Faculty and Administration should not hesitate to give the plan a chance.