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Faculty Senate to decide changes to Pass/Fail policy

By Rishab Ramapriyan     8/27/19 10:39pm

At the April 17 meeting, the Faculty Senate formed a new Pass/Fail working group to examine the purpose of allowing students to take courses pass/fail.  

“The working group was formed after a few senators questioned whether the current pass/fail policies really encourage students to use pass/fail for its primary intended purpose — to explore courses outside their major areas without having to worry too much about taking on work in an area the student may not feel as comfortable with,” Christopher Johns-Krull, Faculty Senate speaker said. 

According to the Faculty Senate minutes, the working group will investigate how pass/fail policies affect the student learning environment and recommend modifications to policies in order to better implement the pass/fail option. 

Johns-Krull, a professor of physics and astronomy, said that the working group is currently in the information-gathering portion of their work. Working group chair Scott Solomon emailed an online survey to all faculty members who teach undergraduate courses on Aug. 23 to gather input regarding their experiences and opinions with the pass/fail option.  

Questions on the survey covered issues such as whether professors would allow students to take classes pass/fail if they could choose, whether faculty should be informed when students take classes pass/fail and whether students should be allowed to take major/minor requirements pass/fail.

Sanat Mehta, who is the Student Association representative on the working group, said his role is to advocate for the student body with respect to the pass/fail option. However, Mehta said he is unsure about how the working group will solicit student feedback.

“My personal view is that [pass/fail is] a good policy overall because it not only makes students feel safer about taking courses outside their comfort zone, but also reduces academic stress for students generally, which is important because Rice is an academically challenging environment,” Mehta, a McMurtry College junior, said. 

Johns-Krull said that the pass/fail option will not go away as a result of the working group, as the goal is to only update the policy based on the working group recommendations. 

“Whatever the working group recommends though, the entire senate will have to vote to approve it or not, so it is always possible nothing will change,” Johns-Krull said. 

According to Johns-Krull, the working group has no specific deadline but he hopes they will finish their work and deliver a report to the Faculty Senate this Fall. 

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