The Harvard Policy Committee yesterday sent Dean Ford a new pass-fail proposal. It recommended that students be allowed to take an ungraded course each semester either as part of their normal four-course load, or as a fifth course.
The HPC last Fall drew up a proposal to have just the fifth course pass-fail. But the new HPC, which took office at the beginning of the semester, was not satisfied with its predecessor's recommendation. They dropped it after it had gotten over a major Administration hurdle -- approval by the Committee on Educational Policy.
Henry R. Norr '68, chairman of the HPC, explained last night why his committee prefers the fourth course plan. One of the main purposes of pass-fail is to encourage students to experiment in courses outside their field of competence that they would not risk taking for a grade, he said. "But if pass-fail means an extra burden -- a fifth course -- it is not likely to foster much experimentation," Norr concluded.
The other main rationale of pass-fail is the alleviation of the competitive pressure of grades, and Norr thinks the new proposal will do that better, too.
Norr calls the new plan "much more radical" and says it will run into much more opposition than the fifth course proposal. "Dean Monro has told us many times that the four course rate of study is a longstanding Harvard tradition. He has told us that many people will see this proposal as a big step to a three course program, and will resist it," he explained.
The Administration may well consider the two main clauses of the proposal separately and decide to reject fourth course pass-fail, but accept the fifth course program, Norr believes.
In a separate proposal, the HPC recommended that all students be allowed to take a free fifth course. Now, only students in honors tutorial have this option. Unless the fifth course is free, fifth course pass-fail is meaningless, the HPC feels. The recommendation was made a month ago, but there has been no action on it. It will probably be considered in connection with the pass-fail proposal.
There is little chance, the HPC feels, that any form of pass-fail will be instituted by next year. "This is a major innovation which will require long, hard discussion," Norr said. "It can't get through the bureaucracy this Spring."
(Dean Ford will automatically pass the proposal on to the CEP. Besides the CEP, the Administrative Board must okay it before it goes to the Faculty for final approval.)
One reason the fourth course proposal will require long discussion is that some important College rules will have to be adjusted if it is accepted. For example, some provision for figuring pass-fail courses into the rank list system will have to be made.
Even more important, someone will have to decide exactly what a "pass" means. The College presently requires a minimum of eleven and a half C-'s for graduation. "Would a pass count as a C- or a D?" Norr asked.
The fifth course plan did not raise these problems. "An additional [fifth] course can be ignored as far as many of the rule books are concerned," Norr pointed out.
There are some questions both plans raised which have not yet been resolved, in particular whether instructors could refuse to admit pass-fail students to their courses. The administration has insisted on that option since some courses are already oversubscribed with graded students.
The HPC proposal goes along with the administration in requiring the instructor's permission to get into a course on a pass-fail basis. But it adds a "plea" that pass-fail students "not be deprived of the opportunity of taking courses that are oversubscribed.