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Student leaders expressed surprise regarding recent changes to the new General Education program, approved by a vote of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on Tuesday, though they were quick to voice support for the alterations.
Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris released a final report in January outlining the new Gen Ed, designed to fix issues with the current program that has been deemed “failing on a variety of fronts.” Not included in that report, however, were changes, approved Tuesday, that will allow students to take up to four of their requirements pass-fail.
“I don’t think it’s ever a positive thing to have last-minute changes to programs that affect thousands of students,” said Eduardo A. Gonzalez ’18, a member of the Undergraduate Council’s Education Committee. “That’s never anyone’s first choice.”
Though UC Education Committee chair Scott Ely ’18 said he was “taken aback” by the late changes, he also said that he ultimately supported the move to give students the opportunity to take Gen Ed classes pass-fail.
“On the whole, I think it’s great for student choice,” Ely said. “It shows that Dean Harris and Dean [of FAS Michael D.] Smith and some of the other people involved are definitely committed to making sure that students have the opportunity to take new interesting courses and put themselves out there.”
Other UC members also expressed support for the pass-fail alteration, although with some initial reservations.
“This seems right off the bat to have both advantages and disadvantages,” Gonzalez said, referring to the new policy. “It works out great because [students] have more freedom to explore the class. On the other hand, you run the risk of students’ finding the easiest class they can and then making it easier on themselves by making it pass-fail.”
Several students not on the UC also said they worried that the new policy might detract from the academic rigor of the Gen Ed program. For freshmen especially, who remain uncertain about how the new Gen Ed will apply to them, the question seemed significant.
For Gopal K. Vashishtha ’19, who cited the experience of a friend at Brown, a school that is flexible on grading policies, the possibility of taking Gen Ed classes not for a letter grade might detract from the time and effort future students dedicate to classes.
“When you take a class pass-fail, whether intentionally or not, you end up devoting less time and energy to it,” Vashishtha said. “If the point of Gen Ed is for you to engage deeply with a subject that’s not your primary area of study, I could see that allowing us to take Gen Eds pass-fail could be counter-productive.”
Other students, however, were more optimistic about the policy, saying that the new pass-fail option could let students explore different topics without fear of poor grades.
“By giving students more leeway with the Gen Eds, they’re more likely to choose their classes on their interests and be more open to exploring and embodying the liberal arts education,” Cindy Chau ’19 said. “They wouldn’t mind taking a really abstract class, and who knows what they might learn in that class.”
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