Three years ago the College changed its Credit/Fail policy to a Credit/D/Fail policy. The policy change was driven by concerns that students were abusing the system. Faculty argued that students were putting in minimal effort to attain a passing grade and that their lack of interest was harming the quality of many classes. According to Orient records, students were barely included in the discussion?and the faculty ultimately decided to create a Credit/D/Fail policy that, for many students, is stifling. The threat of receiving a "D" discourages students from broadening their academic interests, even though that exploration is at the core of a liberal arts education.
This week, Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) members reopened the issue for discussion, providing opportunities for students to share their opinions with the administration. Opening this dialogue represents an important first step in formulating a policy that reflects the concerns of faculty, as well as the students these policies impact. After all, students have the most at stake in this debate.
BSG Vice President for Academic Affairs Burgess LePage '07 and Recording Committee student representative Sam Dinning '09 have offered a worthy proposal. The proposed Grade/Credit/Fail policy is based on Dartmouth University's Non-Recording Option, but retains some the College's current restrictions. The plan would allow students to declare the Grade/Credit/Fail option three weeks into the semester and wait to determine a lowest acceptable grade later in the semester.
The proposed policy rewards students for exploring different disciplines. Under current policy, the simple prospect that a student could receive "D" in a risky course may lead her not to take the course at all?defeating the purpose of the credit-fail option. In contrast, the proposed policy may mitigate students' concerns about their likelihood of success.
The proposal also encourages students to engage fully while taking their credit-fail-optioned courses. The current policy does not reward students for working hard in their Credit/D/Fail courses, instead offering only the threat of what could happen if they put in minimal effort. The result is a system where students can calculate when their "credit" grade has been secured and reduce the level of effort they exert in the final weeks of the course?an easy compromise to make when it is crunch time. The proposed Grade/Credit/Fail policy instead provides incentives for students to work harder when they realize that a good grade in a risky course is a possibility.
Some may see the proposal as an overemphasis on maintaining that perfect grade point average. Maybe it is. But it is undeniable that students, faculty, future employers, and graduate schools do care deeply about grades. And if any student does not enter into a new area of academic exploration simply because of the emphasis on grades, that student will have missed an important opportunity. The College should do anything it can to encourage students to take on these challenges, and the Grade/Credit/Fail option can help in this pursuit.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board. The board is comprised of Bobby Guerette, Beth Kowitt, Anna Karass, Steve Kolowich, and Anne Riley.