Less Pressure

Law School Considers Pass-Fail

In a surprising move, the Michelman Committee, a student-faculty panel reviewing education at the Law School, yesterday submitted a proposal to the faculty recommending that students be graded pass-fail in their first semester.

"Receipt of first-year grades can lend to the first year a layer of tension and competitiveness intense enough to detract from the educational process," the report states.

"This is almost a revolutionary recommendation." Jeffrey P. Smith, a representative to the Law School Council said yesterday. "Any reform at the Law School moves really slowly, because it is so steeped in tradition," he added.

In calling for pass-fail grades, the report rejected arguments that letter grades were necessary to motivate students or to give them an indication of how they were performing academically.

Many students at the Law School view the recommendation as a compromise. The committee narrowly rejected a proposal that recommended making grades pass-fail for the whole first year, despite student support.


Albert M. Sacks, dean of the Law School, who has opposed full-year pass-fail grading in the past, said this week, "If there is a case for pass-fail it is a good deal greater for the first semester than for the second."

A member of the Michelman Committee who asked not to be identified, said yesterday. "If you go to pass-fail grading for the full year, you would increase the pressure, because people do not know how they are doing."

Charlotte A. Lowell, President of the Dorm Council, said yesterday. "This is obviously a compromise," and added. "Hopefully, the Law School will start with this and go on to pass-fail grading for the first year."

The report, which the faculty will vote on in several weeks, also recommends that grades be given to the Harvard Law Review only at the "affirmative request of the student concerned." Grades, which are crucial factor in the Review's selection process, are now given to the publication automatically at the end of the first year.

Mark B. Helm '78, president of the Law Review, said this week that the proposal would "seriously inconvenience" the Review. "From the point of view of the first-year class, this won't reduce pressure, but will only inconvenience students."

The Law School Council voted last night to approve the committee's recommendation on the Law Review. Smith said.

Most of the 48-page report is devoted to increasing feedback to students about their "academic progress." In this area, the report recommends greater use of written exercises and increased hiring of student teaching assistants.