In 2004, the College changed its Credit/Fail option to Credit/D/Fail in order to prevent students from coasting through classes. Also in 2004, the Bowdoin faculty voted to increase the number of distribution requirements students must fulfill to graduate, a mandate that took effect last year. This year, the Curriculum and Education Policy Committee (CEP) is deliberating a motion that would prohibit students from using their Credit/D/Fail option in classes they take to satisfy those distribution requirements.
It is not difficult to see the paternalistic trend here. Bowdoin has held liberal education in highest esteem for over two centuries. Now, rather than treating intellectual curiosity as a philosophy to be encouraged, it has begun treating it as a rule to be enforced.
Last February, this page endorsed a student government initiative to change the Credit/D/Fail policy to a Grade/Credit/Fail one. Grade/Credit/Fail would essentially let students choose whether or not to keep a course grade so long as it is not an "F," thereby creating incentive for students to work hard in classes they take under those conditions. Regrettably, the CEP has tabled this proposal until after a decision is made on whether or not the current Credit/D/Fail option should be available to students seeking to fulfill distribution requirements.
If it weren't, students might work harder, granted. But it would eliminate the purpose of a Credit/D/Fail option within a letter-grade system: to allow students to explore topics outside their comfort zones while avoiding the anxiety caused by the almighty Grade Point Average. Members of the faculty must understand that as long as distribution requirements exist, there will be students in their classes who would prefer not to be, most often because their skills?and passions?lie elsewhere in the academic realm. Eliminating the Credit/D/Fail option from these situations effectively punishes them for failing to be intellectual renaissance men and women.
A Grade/Credit/Fail option, on the other hand, would soften the blow while retaining the incentive to work hard.
There is an underlying truth here: An improved advising system where professors help students understand why they should explore Bowdoin's diverse curricular options would be a far better way to foster intellectual curiosity than to demand compulsory "curiosity" toward prescribed subjects. For this reason, we reiterate our hope that the College will continue to work toward advising reform.
But because distribution requirements are here to stay, we urge the CEP to recognize the importance of the Credit/D/Fail option for students seeking to fulfill them. We hope that upon further examination, they will see the wisdom of the Grade/Credit/Fail proposal and bring it back to the table.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which comprises Steve Kolowich, Anne Riley, Anna Karass, Adam Kommel, Mary Helen Miller, and Joshua Miller.