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What do you think about the Pass/Fail (P/F) grade option for some JMC courses?


Yes - it allows you to experiment with classes you usually would not take.

- David Brigode (Student: 1969 - 1973)


While the Pass/Fail grade option probably resulted in a boost to my overall GPA, I feel in general it was not successful, since it could allow slacking off of effort in JMC classes if the individual were so inclined. The written evaluations might be a good concept, but they weren’t always made available and when compiled for the student at graduation resulted in only a one or two paragraph summary. This does not work very well as a transcript.

- Paul M. Buehrle (Student: 1969 - 1973)


I firmly believe that the Pass/Fail system can allow students to take courses they would not otherwise take, either from fear of failing, or of ruining their grade point average. It makes it easier for students to open up their learning experience and to get them to experiment earlier in life without being a complete disaster for them.

- Dennis Hall (Student: 1965 - 1969)


For me, P/F grading, especially in the form I first encountered in Fall 1973, where instructors wrote up one-page summaries of my work, was a low-risk way to experiment and push myself. I don't think I would have taken French without the P/N tag attached, and I can think of several other courses I took because of the buffer.

(NOTE: Cf. Mark's response to Question 8)

- Mark Harris (Student: 1973 - 1977)


Wasn't it the grading method for all JMC courses?

I thought it was great...I much preferred getting a lengthy critique of my semester to getting a single letter or number to sum it all up. I say this even though I actually didn't pass a couple of courses I probably would have gotten some low passing grade in had they been graded (I failed "Time: An Interdisciplinary Look" because I failed to write one of 6 papers, for example, even though I did well on the other papers).

It would be an even better system for students who weren't uncomfortable going to a professor and saying they just didn't get it... I wish now I had done a lot more interacting with the faculty, and was willing to reveal my ignorance in some matters. I would have done better in my courses, and would have learned a heck of a lot more.

- Steve (Taggart) Johgart (Student: 1973 - 1975)


Some endeavors are beyond worldly evaluation.

- Leonard Kaufmann (Student: 1967 - 1969)


I did not choose to use the elective Credit/No-Credit option that was instituted university-wide, and the JMC Pass/No-Credit system was not in effect while I was there. Although I did not use it, I liked the idea of the C/NC option for electives outside the major. I think, however, this should be limited to a certain number of courses during a student’s four years. I happen to like grades and think they’re necessary! One goes through life being graded in some form, and it’s good to be prepared for this and to learn how to deal with it.

- Carl Koivuniemi (Student: 1965 - 1969)


Again, this was the kind of thing that allowed you to take risks and explore courses that you might not necessarily attempt. I took a 400 level African geography course, with no background, for P/F. I wish I had taken the grade because I got an A. But I had felt I might not be prepared and tried to be safe.

- Suzanne Levy (Student: 1965 - 1969)


At the time of the Spring 1970 Strike, I endorsed and benefited from the concept fully. Having had occasion to review the applications of several (~300) prospective graduate students at one time, though, I found there is an enormous bias that such "judges" have to set aside for those whose transcripts are preponderantly Pass/Fail. In short, it may ultimately work to a student's detriment when compared with others' more traditional grades.

I could, though, see something like the language and I & E coursework treated with such a grading scheme, provided faculty were prepared to be more, not less, rigorous in giving a Pass.

- William McGarvey (Student: 1966 - 1971)


Don't recall taking any of these. In general at the time (in the middle of the Viet Nam war, riots in Detroit), expectations seemed rather loose. Of course, the distractions made it very difficult.

- Joe Milkes (Student: 1967 - 1971)


I was very much in favor of this, but it was being phased out.

- Pamela Oestreicher (JMC faculty: 1976 - 1978)


I think it helped me adjust to college as I was an outstanding student from a not so hot high school. I don’t think I worked as hard as in graded courses, but I don’t think I came out much worse for wear.

- Cleo Parker (Student: 1974 - 1978)


The Pass/Fail was a great detriment.

I graduated without a significant grade point average according to some of the graduate programs at certain schools. I began 2 graduate programs in the years directly after graduation, but I could not compete with candidates with a full GPA.

- Kathryn (Pinkus Cohen) Reiss (Student: 1968 - 1971)


I did not participate in P/F classes and expressed skepticism at the time concerning their value. I’m ambivalent now toward the concept.

- Charles K. Roberts (Student: 1966 - 1970)


ALL JMC courses were pass/fail when I attended. This was one of the most important differences in JMC. The emphasis was on learning, not grades. And we were all graded in the courses we took in the general university, so there were plenty of grades to show up on a transcript (for the parts of the world that needed such things!).

- Nancy R. Shaffer (Student: 1972 - 1975)


It was okay. I didn’t take advantage of it often. I do know that for some students this took the pressure off, took away that fear of having to answer for a grade lower than expected from home or elsewhere. In those instances the student was able to study and gain knowledge without that worry.

- Darlene Swartz-Hubsky (Student: 1969 - 1973)


At the time I was strongly in favor.  Now I doubt that it matters much.  After 12 years of a standard American education, with the job market and the greater university looming just outside the residence hall doors, the supposed pernicious effects of the grading system cannot be evaded on a course-by-course basis.  On the other hand, the fears that students would blow off JMC courses to work on graded university courses seemed to me greatly exaggerated, too.

- John Stick (Student: 1971 - 1975)


When the MSU Administration remembers JMC at all, the pass/fail system seems to be the first/only thing they think of. It only lasted two or three years and was not an important part of the college. It was an experiment that did not work. Forget about it.

- Robert Walter (Student: 1969 - 1974)


Some clarification is in order here. I don't think there was ever a universal P/F (Pass - Fail) option peculiar to JMC. There was a general option for a P/F or C/NC grade on a course, but as I recall this was a general MSU provision which was employed within JMC perhaps more commonly than in the University at large, but certainly not universally. I do recall it was a commonly-invoked attribute of JMC courses that were 'independent study' (both student-initiated projects and certain action- or self-development-oriented titled courses).

There was an experiment with a 'universal-within-JMC' P/NC (Pass - No Credit) grading system which lasted only a few (3?) years in the early 1970's. I believe this was instituted for all JMC courses sometime during the '70-'71 or '71 - '72 school year. I know it was discontinued (or soon to be discontinued) by spring 1975.

The P/NC system was specifically intended to accomplish three goals. The first was to remove the risk or stigma of a 'Fail' grade. The rationale given at the time (when I was involved in the initiative) was that the student should face no greater risk than a 'no credit' (i.e., loss of tuition money invested, but no 'black mark' on his / her transcript). The second part of the rationale was that since JMC courses were commonly 'skill-centered' or 'experiential' in orientation, numerical grades were a poor measure of outcomes. Third, the reciprocal 'dossier system' by which student and instructor evaluated each other (and themselves) at the end of each course was intended to provide both a richer documentary record of course outcomes and a measure of 'feedback' to the instructor otherwise lacking in the MSU environment of the time.

Problems with the P/NC system surfaced soon after it was implemented. For one thing, it induced a significant amount of workload - especially for the instructors. Remember - these were the days of total reliance upon hardcopy documents. There were no computer-based 'templates' or ready capacity for recording notes as the class proceeded to aid the instructors in managing the requirement they be able to track and evaluate each student individually. The dossiers in which student evaluations were stored eventually disappeared into University terra incognito, from which their retrieval became something of an administrative nightmare.

Furthermore, the blanket imposition of a P/NC system on all JMC courses was probably a bad idea. Such a grading approach made sense for courses in which action, participation, and / or student self-development and experience were highlighted. Examples include courses conducted as group projects and certain courses in which experience was the crux of the educational process (e.g., Psychology courses consisting of personal participation in encounter groups / 'T-groups'). It made less sense for courses of a more 'conventional' character - those which, though involving considerable in-class participation, were still focused on particular bodies of knowledge and hence amenable to 'conventional' grading.

By the time I returned in April 1975 for the JMC 10th Anniversary gathering, there had been a couple of intervening years of recession, inflation, and energy shortages. The climate of the times had motivated students to think more in terms of vocational viability than education as self-development. I was specifically told in 1975 that a growing proportion of the then-current crop of students were demanding numerical grades for the sake of developing competitive resumes for the job market.

I still believe there are certain types of coursework for which numerical grades are at best an arbitrary metric and at worst an irrelevant distraction. I further believe that some of the most important offerings in the JMC curricular structure (independent study; whole-term non-classroom study / experience; certain experiential / participatory courses) were quite amenable to a non-numerical approach. On the other hand, I believe numerical grading would be entirely appropriate in the context of the more 'conventional' (and universally rigorous) of JMC's internal topical courses.

As such, I believe the key to any implementation of a P/F or P/NC system is to achieve a reasonable 'fit' between the grading paradigm and the character of the particular course(s) to which it is applied.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


For courses such as Senior Seminar and some of T- group type classes I think the pass / fail grade is good. For regular courses I would prefer the A to F type grading

- Larry Wickett (Student: 1965 - 1969; ongoing JMC experience til 1976)

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