Faculty and student leaders are considering whether to bar students from using the College's Credit/D/Fail option to fulfill distribution requirements.
The discussion comes on the heels of a proposal that Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) submitted to the faculty last spring that would change the current Credit/D/Fail policy to Grade/Credit/Fail. This would allow students to set the minimum grade that they would be willing to receive in a course?any grade below the minimum threshold but still above failing would appear on the transcript as "Credit."
Under this policy, students would continue to be allowed to use the Grade/Credit/Fail option to fulfill distribution requirements.
However, when the new policy was aired at a recent faculty meeting, some members were concerned about the way that students were using the Credit/D/Fail option to fulfill their distribution requirements, according to Professor of Government Allen Springer.
"The feeling was, we can't handle [the Grade/Credit/Fail proposal] until we sit down and break this up into different parts," Springer said. "Now we're trying to separate it and go through it issue-by-issue."
The Committee on Curriculum and Educational Policy (CEP) will ultimately make a recommendation to the faculty about whether students may exercise Credit/D/Fail options in courses they take to satisfy distribution requirements.
BSG Vice President for Academic Affairs Sam Dinning '09, one of the student representatives to the CEP, said he thinks it was reasonable for the faculty to separate BSG's original proposal into separate parts.
"We tried to deal with everything at once, which proved unwieldy, so separating all the issues out makes the most sense now," he said, adding that the student government knew the issue of distribution requirements would arise eventually.
Last year, officials said the faculty would vote on a new policy this fall that would be implemented in 2008. But now the CEP will probably not be able to discuss the issue until December or later, said Associate Dean for Curriculum Steve Cornish.
Cornish said the earliest he could foresee a faculty discussion or vote on the policy is December, but that it is more likely that it will take up the issue next semester.
"I'd even hesitate to say there would be a possibility for a change next fall," he said.
According to Springer, who also sits on the CEP, some faculty members are skeptical of permitting students to use any form Credit/D/Fail to fulfill distribution requirements.
The understanding faculty have always had about Credit/D/Fail, Springer said, is that it is intended to allow students "to explore outside of traditional academic boundaries."
"There are some people that feel that once you require a course, to treat it as a peripheral interest [by allowing students to take it Credit/D/Fail] just doesn't make sense," he said. "I think there are a number of faculty who worry that when students take courses Credit/D/Fail they simply don't take it as seriously."
"When these options were added... it was to encourage a type of liberal arts spread that was being neglected," Associate Professor of Classics and CEP member James Higginbotham said. "I have questions as to whether [Credit/D/Fail] is still operating as a basis for this."
Higginbotham added that the CEP was given data showing that some courses, especially in the sciences, have high proportions of students taking them Credit/D/Fail. He suggested that such dynamics could negatively impact students in a course, citing as an example a group project where each student might have a different level of dedication.
Dinning said that both he and Michaela Wallin '08, the CEP's other student representative, feel that students should retain the right to use Credit/D/Fail when fulfilling distribution requirements.
"We both feel strongly that students want to make sure Credit/D/Fail can be used in areas where you're less comfortable," he said.
Dinning said there did not seem to be a consensus among faculty members.
Some students said that they wouldn't want to lose the option to fulfill distribution requirements using Credit/D/Fail.
"Especially for people who really struggle in a certain area, it could hurt their GPAs and their chances of getting into a better graduate school," said Amanda Wing '08.
"Classes for distribution requirements are the ones I'm most likely to take [Credit/D/Fail] anyway," said Emily McKinnon '10.
BSG President Dustin Brooks '08 said the student government also feels the students should continue to be allowed to fulfill distribution requirements using the Credit/D/Fail option.
"The BSG definitely believes that Credit/D/Fail should be able to be used for distribution requirements," he said. "Credit/D/Fail is made to preserve the rigor of exploration."