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The Yale College faculty's decision to adopt a form of pass-fail is not nearly so remarkable as reliance on a numerical grading system for so long in the past. Yale students, of course, greeted the abolishment of numerical grades with cheers Thursday. They know that most college-level work cannot be measured with numerical precision.
Although the Yale faculty decision should help eliminate student preoccupation with grade averages, the new system is no radical innovation. The four new grading categories--fail, pass, high pass, and honors--are little more than polite words for letter grades. The faculty did refuse, however, to set any guidelines for these categories, thereby making cumulative averages or specific class standings meaningless. The move will undoubtedly encourage some students to take more of the difficult courses that they would otherwise avoid.
Yale's less restrictive grading system may have more influence on graduate school admissions than on the undergraduates. Graduate schools have always given top priority to grade averages and class standings in their admissions policy, now they may have to give more weight to other considerations. Only high-prestige colleges such as Yale and Harvard can make significant--or experimental--departures from traditional grading form without risking the chances of their undergraduate schools.
Yale's main difficulty in passing the new grading system, was overcoming inertia. The Courses of Study Committee took two years before making its unanimous recommendation, and then only a third of the faculty turned up to vote on it. The supporters, including the dean of the Yale Graduate School, won by a 10-1 ratio. The Committee on Educational Policy at Harvard should overcome the similar faculty inertia here and press for action on the fourth-course pass-fail and the language requirement.
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