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A slim majority of first-year law students favors a mandatory pass-fail grading system for at least the first year of law school, according to a poll of about 90 per cent of the class.
The questionnaire-drafted by three first-year students calling themselves the Ad Hoc Committee on Grade Reform-asked students to choose between five grading systems including possible combinations of letter grades, pass-fail, and honors-satisfactory-low-fail, for their three years.
Only five per cent chose the present grading system, which allows students a choice of the three alternatives for their first year while retaining the old system of letter grades for the last two years.
The Law School faculty instituted this system last Spring when first-year students mounted a strong campaign in favor of a uniform pass-fail system. Even then, however, there was some dissatisfaction and one student commented, "It's clear the faculty realizes this is a temporary solution."
Almost thirty per cent-the largest single group-favored a uniform pass-fail system for all three years, and 21.6 per cent-the next biggest group-chose pass-fail for the first year with options between the three alternatives for the final two years. About four per cent specified other variations which included pass-fail for the first year.
About 19 percent favored a choice between the three alternatives for three years while 11 per cent advocated a return to letter grades.
In releasing the results of their questionnaire, the three students-Andrew l. Schepard, Jonathan Z. Souweine, and Paul L. Warner-said that the present system "seems to represent no coherent philosophy but was instituted as a palatable political compromise."
They also questioned "the efficiency of the option system," maintaining that stu-
dents who normally favor pass-fail were hesitant to pass up grades because employers might assume that they are "somehow less able than the ones who choose grades."
In the past, employers have hired law students for jobs during the summer after their second year on the basis of their first year grades. But this year the Law, School requested employers not to ask students for their grades, although it left the students free to volunteer the information.
Students claim that there have been instances in which employers have either asked students outright for their grades or have hesitated to hire students who do not reveal their grades.
Derek C. Bok, dean of the Law School, said last night that he had not heard any such reports, but he said that "it might well be possible that to some extent, there are some employers who want some assurance by grades."
In demonstrating what they called "the coercive nature of the option system," they pointed to the answers to a question which had asked all those who favored pass-fail whether they would choose pass-fail this year under the present system.
While 37 per cent replied that they would, 20 per cent answered that they would not and 40 per cent said they did not know.
First-year students met informally earlier in the year to discuss possible reforms of the grading system, and the idea for a poll grew out of those gatherings, Schepard said last night.
While sentiment seems to be in favor of some other system. Schepard said, "we really don't know how important the issue is to the students. We have no idea of what kind of active support we can get."
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