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Changes to Pass/Fail Under Consideration

in Around Campus/News by

The Curriculum Committee is considering changes to pass/fail policies in an attempt to reform the credit/no credit system. On Feb. 17th, Provost Tom Stephenson sent out descriptions of the proposals and a survey on students’ policy preferences to the student body via email. The changes to the policy include making a D- a passing grade for first-year students, making the threshold for passing a course taken as CR/NC consistent among all class years, and making a C- or better appear as credit.  A D+, D or D- in a class taken as CR/NC would have the letter grade appear on the transcript but still earn credit. Another proposal is to change the deadline for electing to take a course CR/NC no later than the 13th week of the semester rather than the 9th, and reduce the number of classes a student can opt for CR/NC after the first semester from four to three. These changes would only apply to the class of 2021 and beyond.

Students generally supported the proposals with the exception of the measure decreasing the number of CR/NC selections. Of the 420 students who responded to the survey, 53.5 percent of students supported allowing first year students to earn credit for a D-, with 19.6 percent opposing and 27 percent selecting the neutral option. For the potential change in the appearance of CR/NC grades below a C-, 63.8 percent were in favor, 22.7 percent opposed, and 14.6 percent were neutral. 88.5 percent of students agreed with changing the deadline to elect CR/NC to the 13th week, 6.9 percent opposed, and 4.5 percent of students answered “neutral.” Only 24.6 percent of students who took the survey indicated that they supported the reduction of CR/NC selections to three, 50.8 percent indicated that they opposed, and 24.6 percent were neutral to the idea.

SGO’s discussion of the proposal during its Feb. 26 meeting focused on the impact of the potential implementation of the changes for current students, but the provost stressed that it would not be feasible to apply changes in CR/NC policies to current students. Additionally, SGO was interested in helping advocate for the proposals students supported, but they were informed that the decision is in the hands of the Curriculum Committee.

The wide support for changing the deadline to elect to take a class CR/NC is indicative of the current issues with the pass/fail system. Students often feel that they do not have enough information by the ninth week of classes to make right decision. Because students inevitably gain more insight into how they are doing in a class as the semester progresses, extending the deadline would help students make more informed decisions.

Such a situation happened to Ana Curtis ’19, who experienced this situation when she took a class CR/NC but ended up doing better in the course than she expected.

“I was taking a class that I didn’t think I would do well in and got a C on the first test. It was pretty close to the pass/fail deadline, so I decided to take the class pass/fail. However, I ended up doing very well on the second midterm and presumably did well on the final, and so when I checked my grade over break, it turned out my shadow grade was an A. If I had the option to wait to declare pass/fail, I would have had that A on my GPA instead of ‘Credit’,” Curtis said.

However, there are concerns that students will use the extended deadline to hide grades. Students could presumably use the deadline to hide their worst grade in a particular semester, while the intent of pass fail is for students to take classes that they would not normally take. Stephenson expressed that there were faculty concerns with that aspect of the proposal.

To the degree that the proposal will result in conversion of grades that fall below the current college average to CR, then that will result in the inflation of the average graduation GPA […] There are faculty who worry as a matter of principle about the ability of students to pick-and-choose which grades appear on their transcripts. Some of that is a matter of principle, some is concern about ‘GPA protection.’ It is hard for me to predict how widely shared these views might be and how they are balanced against the other positive benefits of the proposals,” he said.

Economics Professor John Caskey also expressed his thoughts on the proposal and provided his perspective on the CR/NC deadline proposal.

“I don’t strongly favor or oppose the proposal. Clearly students would take more classes for a grade and use the credit/no credit option after getting their final grades to ‘hide’ grades that they think hurt their overall academic record. On net, I suspect the proposal would slightly contribute to grade inflation since many unexpected low grades could be removed from transcripts. But, offsetting this, some faculty members might be more inclined to give low grades, just assuming that students could convert them into [credits],” he said.

The potential changes would only apply to the class of 2021 and not any current students. Student opinion ultimately does not bind the faculty to make a particular decision, but student opinion is considered. Additionally, the individual proposals can be enacted independently of one another. Stephenson commented on how the decision will be made.

“Curricular decisions are, in the final analysis, made by the faculty. But I think that student input is welcome and sought whenever we are are making decisions that are motivated in whole or in part by what is perceived to be in the best interests of students. I think that student input can also sway undecided faculty […And] I believe that [the proposals] can be adopted independently of one another,” he said.
Credit/No Credit policies seem likely to change in the future as the results of the survey indicated clear results and the Curriculum Committee seems interested in improving the current CR/NC policies. It is yet to be seen whether the policy changes will effectively address the current challenges of the pass/fail policy and improve the academic experience for future Swatties.

Despite rich history, WRC experiences growing pains

in Campus Journal by

“The WRC… I should go there more…”

Many have made the first trip of their Swarthmore careers to the WRC in the last month: just in March, the WRC hosted a discussion on Hillary Clinton, co-sponsored over 5 Women’s History Month talks, organized a community-building dinner, and co-led Healthy Sex and Relationships Week. The WRC also regularly partners with multiple student groups, supports survivors through regular events, boasts three floors of meeting space, and maintains a paid staff of nine students and three administrators.

Still, “what is the WRC?” remains a popularly-uttered phrase on campus. Well?

Nora Kerrich ’16, a WRC associate, calls the the WRC a “revolutionary space.”

 

Women’s spaces on college campuses have a long history of political and social importance and Swarthmore’s is no different. Established in 1965, the WRC was created as a space for the safety and service of women on campus.  It has existed that way since, regularly serving as an open space and creating programming related to gender and women’s issues. Lightning struck the space in 2013 causing a fire that destroyed most of the WRC’s library and necessitated significant rebuilding.

Despite this fiery setback, the central vision and purpose of the WRC has withstood its 50+ year long history.

 

“The WRC is a space that is politically oriented towards highlighting the achievements of women and supporting the political cause of equity for women and gender nonconforming folks,” said Kerrich, who has been involved in the WRC for 4 years.

“Colleges and universities are patriarchal institutions”, Indigo Sage ’16, another WRC associate, pointed out.  “The WRC exists to be a space that is aware of that, and tries to support students who aren’t supported by it”.

It is that vital political and cultural purpose that drives her and most of the staff to each put in a full 8-10 hours a week working on programming, planning, hosting, and collaborating with other groups on campus.

Eliza Henneberry ’19, another associate at the WRC, discussed the importance of the WRC as a nurturing space that fosters people and conversations. The space, while political, also fills a community need.

Staff advisors, too, are motivated foremost by the necessity of the WRC.

 

“You can see this [need for the WRC] in the campus climate study where nearly 1 in 4 respondents said that they personally had experienced exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, and/or hostile conduct on campus and 29% of those respondents said that this conduct was based on their gender or gender identity,” Becca Bernstein, staff advisor of the WRC commented.

This year, there’s been a concerted effort to be intentional and strategic about events and programming. Staff members hope the chosen programs and collaborations directly speak to the mission. In keeping its tradition of emphasizing community, a new Anti-Pasta Bar dinner will be held every Sunday to build friendships and offer a safe space for discussion.  The recently started Tea with the WRC centers a weekly discussion on a topic, and WOCKA (Women of Color Kicking Ass) meetings take place in the building every Thursday.

Even though fundamentally much remains the same, a lot of the WRC’s structure and scope has changed with this year’s new team. Gone are house sitters and in are a paid, semi-specialized staff of 10 students and 3 administrators who oversee vision, plans, and programming.

 

“The new formalized model, of weekly meetings and direct links to administration through staff will keep student-workers accountable”, Kerrich added.

There’s also an increased emphasis on collaboration. The new “project-team model” has created a Community Outreach group which solely works to develop collaborations with other groups.  Both in terms of providing space and organizational planning, the WRC currently works with WOCKA, SwatFems, the Title IX office, and OSE, amongst others.

The WRC also hopes to be explicitly and intentionally welcoming of trans and gender nonconforming students — staff members feel as though it is making progress, though more can be done.

 

“Something we are cognizant of, with the history of women’s resource centers as a whole, is that they aren’t racially inclusive, they aren’t inclusive of gender nonconforming people”, Hennebery said.  “The WRC has the potential to foster a real transgender community.”

Still, the WRC faces both new and old challenges.

“One challenge is in maintaining a sense of student leadership and power over the WRC, which I think is key to the space remaining relevant and active,” Kerrich explained.

 

With the staffing changes, she identifies this as a key consideration going forward.

“The staff is also trying to be more public in marketing so that everyone that needs the space knows about it,” Sage added. “I hope the forward momentum continues after graduation.”

Another challenge is in achieving additional institutional support.

 

“It is disheartening to not have the same kind of staff support that the IC and BCC have”, Kerrich said, referencing the lack of a full-time staff support.

Henneberry discusses a key issue that the WRC team has been working on: making the WRC space fully accessible. “There’s a lack of support that shows itself in small and big ways,” they said. “We need a ramp.”

 

The space is currently struggling with both funding and instituting a wheel-chair accessible ramp. It seems additionally difficult to handle given the marginality of both disability issues and women’s spaces.

“It can be draining to not feel supported by the school,” Henneberry said of these challenges.

 

“To say that the WRC has experienced growing pains this year would be an understatement, but the fact that we are emerging from this year with so much hope for the future is really the most important thing,” Bernstein concluded.

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