Tomorrow the Division of History, Government, and Economics meets to pass on the records of over one third of the graduating class. Most of its problems will arise in awarding the various degrees with distinction. During their Senior year honors candidates have completed their course records, handed in a thesis, taken three written examinations, and appeared before the Board of Examiners for an oral test. Grades have been compiled on the basis of all these various factors, and it is the business of the Division to synthesize the results into some or no degree of distinction.
This year for the first time a fairly definite system of weighting has been established, under which the General examinations count half, the course records one third, and the thesis one sixth. Formerly there was no exact ratio, although the thesis was considered more nearly equal to the Divisionals. The new criterion was adopted after considerable discussion, and although in some quarters it was felt that the thesis should continue to rank coordinate, with the examinations, a larger body of opinion favored giving even more weight to the General examinations, perhaps as much as sixty per cent.
An inevitable conflict arises between the specialization of the thesis and the broadness of the Divisionals. Probably there is much in the contention that the undergraduate distinction thesis can really be of little benefit to a student as compared with the same amount of time and effort devoted toward covering a wider field. Yet whatever may be the merits of the end in view, the application of the new rule seems hardly the most equitable way of attacking the problem. As has been pointed out in these columns before, the tutorial system as now administered in the Senior year, places especial emphasis on the thesis, and most Seniors have devoted more time to their thesis than to direct preparation for Divisionals. Many Seniors have found the thesis not only the most time-consuming but the most interesting part of their year's work, and have been able to do little more than cram from their Divisionals.
If the change is to be permanent there should be a through-going reorganization of the work of the Senior year for distinction candidates. Required course work will have to be lightened even more, perhaps abolished entirely during the second half-year, if the student is to be expected to prepare adequately for the Generals. The examinations themselves are to be changed in part next year in the direction of better correlation with the related fields, and this alone will necessitate more intensive tutorial work. The possibility of rotating tutors might well be considered, with a view to avoiding specialization and enabling the student to interest himself in the various related branches of the subject.
If the thesis is to be abolished as a significant factor in the work of the Division, the other extremes of undue standarization must be avoided. While the General examination offers a large choice of questions, there is at times a tendency toward a certain type, and in such cases preparation become little different from that for a course final. If the Divisionals are to be given more weight, they must be made into really significant gets of four years' work. Unless this can be done, most students will continue to feel that the thesis is the best criterion of their intellectual development.