Princeton May Drastically Expand Current Pass-Fail Grading System; Wilcox Sees No Hope for It Here
Princeton, one of the first Ivy League colleges to adopt a pass-fail plan, is now seriously considering an even more radical departure from the traditional grading system.
Under a plan just endorsed by the University's Faculty Committee on Courses of Study, students would be able to receive ungraded credit for an unlimited number of courses taken, without charge, beyond the normal course load.
The plan is a replacement and expansion of Princeton's pass-fail system, which is now in its second year and is widely regarded by the Harvard Faculty as a test case for the pass-fail concept. Under the current program, a student can take one of his five courses every year on an ungraded pass-fail basis. The new plan would reduce the Princeton course load to four in the first three years and three in the senior year.
Instead of pass-fail, the proposed system uses the term "audited courses." A student could do as much work as he chose for any number of extra courses, and if by the end of the term he felt that he was well prepared, he could take the final exam. If he passed the final, he would get a "pass" designation on his transcript without being responsible for any of the other course requirements. If he failed the final, or chose not to take it, no record of his connection with the course would be kept.
Such "pass" courses could be used to fulfill Princeton's general education and language requirements. They could not be used for departmental requirements or acceleration.
Sources at the Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper, explained yesterday that the proposal, which originated with Edward D. Sullivan '36, dean of the college, is intended to add greater flexibility to the Princeton undergraduate program while reducing the burden of five required courses a year. The new plan will serve these purposes better than the pass-fail system because students would be able to drop an audited course at any time.
Although the Princeton proposal is past its first administrative hurdle, it still needs general faculty approval. Chances for approval of the course reduction plan are considered good, but the auditing section of the proposal is apparently still an open question.
The Harvard Policy Committee's pass-fail proposal, currently before the Committee on Educational Policy, resembles the original Princeton system much more than the new plan. Edward T. Wilcox, director of General Education, indicated yesterday that there would be very little Faculty interest in anything approaching Princeton's proposal. "It boils down to saying that a course is only as good as its examination," he explained. "The Faculty would not be very excited about that idea."
Wilcox noted that there is a "built-in exposure rule" within the philosophy of Harvard general education. The Faculty assumes, he said, that educational value is derived from exposure to the entire course. He added that he saw "no room for an exam writeoff under this philosophy."
He also pointed out the danger in the Princeton proposal of overconcentration. A student would be able to take 16 courses in his major and use his audited courses to meet distribution requirements and "presumably get a degree in liberal arts," Wilcox said.
Ronald L. Trosper '67, chairman of the HPC, yesterday compared the two plans and noted that the HPC did not equate a course with its final exam. The HPC's plan would require pass-fail students to do all of the course work, and Trosper pointed out that Harvard's proposal "offers similar educational opportunities as well as increased flexibility" to pass-fail students.