Pass/fail debated for first-years

Future Carnegie Mellon first-years may soon be in for a severe re-grade. At an open meeting on Thursday, the Undergraduate Student Senate proposed pass/fail grading as an option for students in the fall of their first year.

Evan Osheroff, a junior business administration major, chair of the Academic Affairs Committee, and co-author of the proposal, presented the idea. He cited the committee’s three main motivations: eliminating parental stress about grades, helping the large number of international students adjust to life in the U.S., and allowing students to get more involved in campus activities.

“There is a general complaint of apathy at football games and in campus activities,” he said. “This system will allow [first-year] students time to participate because grades are not as important.”

Osheroff also mentioned that a pass/fail grading system would allow students to see if their major was where they really belonged.

“They won’t have to get Cs and Ds to realize they don’t want to study their major,” he said of first-years.

Osheroff mentioned four other universities where pass/fail fall semesters for first-years have had beneficial results; MIT, Johns Hopkins University, Brown University, and Reed College all have existing policies. A study at MIT showed that for first-years, first-semester GPAs were nearly one-third of a point lower than the all-university average before the pass/fail system was initiated.

However, opinions at Carnegie Mellon were mixed as to the helpfulness of such a measure.
Many students expressed that allowing pass/fail grading in the first semester would only put off the inevitable wake-up call of college until the next semester.

Others worried that students might abuse the policy, taking their hardest courses in the fall of their first year so as not to receive a potentially poor letter grade.

Sean Weinstock, a senior business administration major and student body president, spoke in favor of the measure.

“This idea was part of the CMU5 campaign,” Weinstock said. “In my opinion, it seems like a pass/fail system would allow future freshmen to adjust to life away from home before grading and potentially round out the college experience from the start.”

Some students expressed concern that this measure would conflict with existing pass/fail policies for all undergraduates.

Under current policies, students are allowed to take a class pass/fail as long as they are not planning on counting it toward their major.

The School of Computer Science recently changed its policies so that while a D is not a failing grade, students must retake a class in which they receive a D if they are planning on counting it toward a computer science major.

Osheroff said that the committee was in the beginning stages of the proposal and it had not yet decided what the letter boundaries of pass/fail would be.

Jared Itkowitz, a junior buisness administration major and Student Senate chair, conducted an informal straw poll of Senators and non-Senators that revealed a close count of students for and against the proposal. Six students voted to implement the system immediately, 23 voted to research it further, and 24 voted to drop the issue altogether.

The Faculty Senate has yet to vote on pass/fail grading for first-years.