Nothing lasts forever, and neither does a long-standing tradition within the Residential College. Designed to discourage competitiveness among students and encourage improvement and learning, the RC”s policy of awarding written evaluations in lieu of letter grades will change this fall.

Paul Wong
Thomas Weiskopf, Director of the Residential College, faces a policy change that some say could harm the learning philosophy of the college<br><br>ALEX HOWBERT/Daily

For the first time since the RC was formed more than 35 years ago, RC students will receive letter grades in addition to written evaluations, with a few exceptions.

Not affected by the new policy are classes under the RC foreign language program intensive classes in Russian, Spanish, French, German and Latin. The classes, which require students to take 8 credits worth of a language for two semesters, are designed differently from other classes. Because the classes are intensive and students are expected to learn a wide variety of skills in a short amount of time, students pass to the next level based on end-of-the-semester performance as opposed to the more standard cumulative performance, which factors in work throughout the semester.

The new policy only applies to this year”s freshman class and subsequent classes.

Several factors contributed to the policy changes, said Thomas Weiskopf, director of the RC.

“We were getting an increasing number of requests for GPAs for RC students and while, in the past, we could provide an estimate, we could not provide an official GPA,” he said.

The change also follows the recommendation of an external review committee that analyzed the college a few years ago and recommended the RC offer grades as well as written evaluations.

The decision to implement letter grades has not been without controversy. To gather input the RC created the RC Working Group on Evaluations and Grades, which has been working on this issue for the last year and will continue to work through next year.

“Our concern is that the RC philosophy of education may be adversely affected by the introduction of letter grades,” Weiskopf said, adding, “This has been a very controversial matter since it began to be discussed a few years ago and opinions remain divided on the wisdom of the move.”

Warren Hecht, Assistant Director for Academic Services for the RC and head of the creative writing program, has been teaching in the RC for more than 30 years and has yet to give a student a letter grade. “It”s something I”ve been thinking about a lot,” he said, “how to put a letter grade on a creative writing paper. One of the purposes of grading simply by written evaluation is that it makes the classes non-competitive. Perhaps receiving grades will put students in a more competitive frame of mind.”

Hecht added he feels grades will give the RC a different atmosphere. “I”m sure the students will do very well, but it won”t be the same for those of us who continue to remember.”

RC students also remain divided as to whether or not letter grades have a place in the RC.

RC junior Gia Jones disagrees with the new policy implementing grades. “I actually wouldn”t have even applied to U of M if there wasn”t a program like the RC,” she said.

Jones said receiving a written evaluation pushed her to learn more than just the questions that are covered on tests in graded courses. “I was never a big fan of grades or tests because it just shows how good someone is at memorizing things and regurgitating it back to the teacher, so when I saw that the RC did evaluations instead of grades I jumped at the chance to finally be in an educational situation where I would be expected to actually learn and gain more knowledge to merge with what I already knew,” she said.

Even though Jones will not receive grades, she said she still feels slighted by the change. “(The change) says to me that because the school I”m in is so small, it doesn”t matter, and even though its set-up works well for me and my learning style and maximizes the intellectual gain I get from attending this university, it still doesn”t matter. It”s like the RC was a square peg and its ends were rounded out so it could fit in a circular hole.”

RC junior Luke Carmichael said he believes the changes are for the better. He said he believes the written evaluations, when coupled with letter grades, would provide more information about a student and that grades might encourage competitiveness between students, causing them to learn more.

Carmichael also said the implementation of grades could mean RC classes would be less likely to be treated as “blow-offs.”

Although she said both policies have advantages and disadvantages, RC sophomore Sarah Nisbett agrees with Carmichael because she believes that placing grades and evaluations together create a better system than just receiving grades or just receiving evaluations.

“I wish we had that for our class,” she said. “I feel like we missed out.”

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