Undergrad Ed Committee Discusses Pass/Fail Extension, Policy Changes

Members of the Committee for Undergraduate Education considered four proposals to improve the academic experience at the College during a meeting Wednesday, including one to extend the pass/fail deadline further into the semester.

The proposals, made by the Undergraduate Council Education Committee, specifically asked CUE to consider moving the pass/fail deadline from the fifth to the seventh Monday of the semester, as well as to consider implementing a mid-semester faculty evaluation and grade report.

The UC Education Committee also asked for faculty members to list the cost of course materials on their syllabi, though many meeting attendees considered the proposal unfeasible.

Assistant Dean of the College Sue Brown said in an interview Wednesday evening that she thought the proposal to change the pass/fail deadline “garnered the most traction” at the meeting.

“There is an impression on one hand that [extending the pass/fail deadline] is really motivated by students checking their GPA,” Brown said. “But I think there are other considerations that are also an important part of the conversation, like someone who has really taken a risk by taking a class and doesn’t know how things will turn out.”

Jeffrey A. Miron, the director of undergraduate studies in the Economics Department, agreed with Brown, saying that the pass/fail extension was the most feasible option and “least controversial” proposal the UC Education Committee offered.

“I think it is fairly simple and inexpensive to implement,” Miron said during an interview.

Miron also noted that he would need more data from the committee in order to approve the other proposals such as the suggestion to list the cost of course materials on syllabi.

Brown also warned against focusing on grades and grade point averages when pursuing proposals, such as extending the add/drop deadline and implementing a mid-semester grade report, which may affect a student’s course selection.

Instead, Brown recommended that the UC committee concentrate its efforts on improving students’ learning experience.

“[The Education Committee] should really focus on learning outcomes, and how these [proposals] will positively affect learning outcomes,” Brown said. “There needs to be an honest conversation with all members of the University on what is good work, and what do grades really mean.”

Dhruv P. Goyal ’16, the chair of the UC Education Committee, said the debate over the value of learning as opposed to the value of a grade was something that the his committee will take into consideration while moving forward with its proposals. He also noted that one of the committee’s first steps will to be to re-evaluate the significance of a letter grade at the College.

“Are grades a means of comparison, or are they a means of testing your mastery of the material?” Goyal said in an interview.

In addition to debating the four proposals, members of the Committee on Undergraduate Education discussed how to improve the quality of Harvard’s Q Guide and the advantages and drawbacks of capping section size.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on twitter @Meg_Bernhard.