At Johns Hopkins University, students take their first semester’s worth of classes on a pass/fail basis. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this option buttresses students’ transcripts all freshman year. The goal is to relieve the stress that often comes with first year: choosing a major, getting acquainted with new surroundings, and higher standards within the classroom.
UM is neither Hopkins nor MIT. We do have a built-in stress stabilizer here that we call “weather.” But when you take into consideration a typical UM student’s course load (5 classes per semester), and compare it to most schools, where students take a normal course-load of 4 or 3 classes per term, one wonders where the clemency is.
UM does feature the “freshman forgiveness” policy, but this comes at a cost, taking students off track from on-time graduation, and making students feel incompetent for their inability to pass an introductory class. Shouldn’t something more be done?
Realistically, it would be difficult for UM to lower the number of required credits for graduation; upperclassmen would start swinging, and it would take away from Donna Shalala’s vision of a comprehensive liberal arts education. As for the pass/fail option, that really is at the administration’s discretion, although it would be wildly popular amongst freshmen and would allow students slightly more time to adjust to life on their own. For the time being, however, the University should look into re-evaluating many of its so-called introductory classes on many levels.
The title bestowed to many of UM’s intro classes is deceiving–students sign up hoping to get their feet wet, only to have the professors proverbially hold their heads under water (except for that crazy intro to swimming teacher, but he’s been fired). The administration should see to it that teachers be interesting and interested, and evaluate the subject matter in each class and method of testing. Simply stated, intro classes should be easy but interesting–not unnecessarily daunting. As the situation stands, my roommate and good friend is packing up and preparing for a year away from school, because he was just one of many first-year students to succumb to the difficulty of BIO 150. Hell, I’m having trouble pulling a C in Intro to Broadcasting-BROADCASTING! So let’s hope that future classes don’t have to put up with what is currently an inexcusable misnomer: the intro class.
Ben Minkus is a freshman studying Broadcast Journalism; he can be contacted at Boopalee@aol.com.