The University Record, April 10, 1995
By Jane R. Elgass
Effective fall term 1995, students entering LS&A will no longer be able to take the final course in a language sequence required to fill a College requirement on a pass/fail basis. The change was approved by the LS&A faculty at their April 4 meeting on a voice vote with one nay.
A report issued at the January meeting noted that the pass/fail option "was having a devastating effect on language instruction" because students electing that option were not taking the course work seriously, thereby impeding the learning for all in the class.
The move to eliminate this option was described as a "minimalist approach" by Michael M. Martin, associate dean for undergraduate education, who noted a number of options were discussed, ranging from eliminating the pass/fail option across the board or doing nothing at all.
Student Richard Bernstein, president-elect of LS&A Student Government, addressed the group prior to the vote, asking them to listen to what students are telling them.
He said that students generally are unhappy about language classes and have continually filed complaints. "It is improper to blame us for department ills," he said.
Bernstein noted that LS&A has many outstanding faculty, with students auditing their classes and wait-lists for those who want to take them for credit.
"Look at what the students have stated," Bernstein said. "This doesn't exist in foreign language departments. Look at the situation with a little more respect."
Ruth S. Scodel, professor of Greek and Latin and director of the Honors Program, said that to some extent Bernstein was right. "Based on extensive advising experience, what we've heard is true."
Meeting the foreign languages requirement is "hopelessly and painfully frustrating for some," Scodel said, adding that this doesn't mean pass/fail is not a problem. "Students are responding to their dislike of the situation by taking the course on a pass/fail basis," she said.
She hopes that students taking languages for a grade will continue to pressure faculty and departments, but also places blame on high schools for inadequate preparation. She noted that students coming from some of the best schools in the state with four years of a foreign language frequently place into the introductory course in a sequence.
Almost 50 percent of students taking French and Spanish elect the pass/fail option, which requires a C- grade for pass, and these students do very little preparation for class, said William R. Paulson, chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.
"Their preparation for the course is aimed at getting around the C. They prepare for 15 minutes." he said. "We have tried to improve our courses, make them more student-centered, but this is very difficult if 50 percent of them are not motivated to work."
Paulson noted that students may not be happy about elimination of the option, "but we have to find a way to motivate them. Grading is one direction to go."
Spanish Prof. Frank P. Casa noted that the pass/fail option originally was intended to "encourage students to take risks, to take courses they normally wouldn't take," not provide an option for elimination of a low grade.
He also noted that in foreign language classes, "it's true we don't do the best possible job." Language classes require interactive participation, Casa noted, difficult with a minimum of 25 students per class. The problem is compounded, he said, because students seeking Cs don't come to class very often and don't participate when they do.
Lynn Gorell of romance languages noted that Spanish courses have been revamped so as to be tied to other courses, but said students "rarely, if ever, make the connection. We are struggling to make innovations for an audience that is not responsive. Students still say, 'Prove to me I need the language.'"
In other action at the meeting, the faculty amended the Faculty Code to make emeritus faculty eligible to serve as ombudsman.