Faculty Discuss Pass/Fail Addition, Open Access Resolution
Issue   |   Wed, 12/05/2012 - 01:50

On Dec. 4, the faculty met and discussed two major points: an addition to the pass/fail policy and an Open Access Resolution.
Before discussing those two items, President Carolyn Martin announced that the Committee of Six decided to go with the online program, edX. The committee is expecting to have their first course as early as the fall of 2013. The committee’s announcement is not a final decision since the committee decided to have the faculty vote on it during a special meeting to be held on Dec. 28.

The Committee on Education Policy presented a change to the Amherst College Catalog which was recommended by the Dean of Students Office. The change would revise the current pass/fail option in the catalog to include the following: “The class dean may, on behalf of a student, seek permission from the instructor and the student’s advisor to extend this deadline in cases of disabling medical problems or grave personal emergencies.”

The faculty expressed concerns with the addition. Professor David Hall felt that the addition would take away from the pass/fail option’s intent: to encourage students to explore courses outside their field. Professor Sarah Turgeon echoed Professor Hall’s concerns, saying that she feared that students would stop taking advantage of the pass/fail option to explore classes in fear that a medical emergency would happen later on and they might not have any pass/fail options left.

Dean of New Students Patricia O’Hara, one of the advocates for the addition, said that the new policy would give the deans one more tool for helping students who find themselves in complicated situations during the semester (as it stands, students have to decide if they will take a class pass/fail before the add/drop period ends). She added that the deans are expecting that, if put into place, this policy will only be used in very rare occasions. Professor Rick Lopez, the chair of the CEP, clarified that for a student to be able to take a class pass/fail, the professor would have to approve.

However, the professors expressed that their problem was not with the deans’ authority, but with the implications of the addition and its location. Professor Lawrence Douglas argued that it would not be fair for a student that had already used their two pass/fail options for exploring courses to be denied an emergency pass/fail option if they needed one. The faculty then agreed that the addition would be acceptable as long as a distinction was made between the two different purposes. They decided not to vote on the addition and for the CEP to work on clearer wording.

Professor Chris Kingston then gave a presentation on an Open-Access Resolution which was created by the Faculty Library Committee. Passing such a resolution — one which Harvard, Duke, MIT, Stanford and others currently have in place — would guarantee worldwide access to journal articles published by faculty members. Professor Kingston listed two main reasons why such a resolution would be advantageous to the faculty: creating a wider audience for academic work and providing everyone with Internet access an opportunity to view the research.

Currently faculty members have the option to make their works available for open access, but the resolution would change the process from a opt-in to an opt-out process. Professor Kingston explained that although some of the journals that professors submit their works ask that the articles are not made available for open access, the way to opt-out of the open access is easy.
Some professors expressed concerns with the way in which this new open access era would affect the finances of the journals they submitted their work to. Bryn Geffert, Librarian of the College, explained that Harvard had tracked whether the open-access resolutions had a negative impact on journals and found that the resolutions did not affect the journals.

Faculty members were also afraid that the resolution would put a pressure on professors waiting for tenure to have many downloads of their written work.

This was only an introduction of the open access resolution conversation. There will be open-forums throughout next semester and a final date for a vote on the resolution will be determined later.