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Opinion: The credit/no credit option should be extended to program requirements

One small step for faculty, one giant leap for the student body
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FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY
FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

I first heard of U of T’s credit/no credit (CR/NCR) option during my first year while standing on the platform of St. George station and complaining to my friend about the 300-level French course I was taking to fulfill what I thought would be a French language minor. 

Having been a straight 90s student in high school, I was shocked and appalled by the 60s that I was receiving in a language I thought I had mastered. More than that, I was paralyzed by the thought that that single bad grade could prevent me from meeting my program requirements, getting into the graduate program of my dreams, and changing the world.

You can imagine my relief when I found out that I could effectively lock my subpar French grade into a black box and continue my streak of overachievement. I was in awe at the generosity of my administrative overlords.

I ended up credit/no crediting my grade, and I minored in creative expression and society instead. However, it wasn’t until my third year that I found out that I wouldn’t have been able to minor in French even if I wanted to as a result of my decision to purge the grade from my leger. 

Currently, U of T only allows its students to CR/NCR courses that are not used to fulfill their program requirements. This is largely useless because those are usually the low-stakes ‘bird’ courses that students take in order to fulfill their breadth requirements and have no influence on their acceptance into their program of study. So much for the generosity.

While the Faculty of Arts & Science’s (FAS) decision to extend the CR/NCR and late withdrawal deadlines until after students receive their final grades because of the pandemic is commendable and heartening, it does not go far enough. 

The exclusion of program requirements from the CR/NCR option was always dubious at best, and at worst, it makes CR/NCR useless. With the added challenges that students are facing in the current climate, granting such generous accommodations while excluding the very thing that would alleviate the most pressure off of students’ backs just adds to the gesture’s ineffectiveness to the needs of the student body.

In order to complete a bachelor’s degree in the FAS, students are required to have 20 full course equivalents (FCE). On average, each major requires seven FCE for its fulfillment and each minor four FCE. One common degree layout is a major and double minor, so if you total the credits for a major and two minors, you get 15 FCE, with five courses left over for experimentation during your wayward youth, out of which two can be CR/NCR. This is manageable.

However, things become a little more nuanced when you consider alternate combinations such as mine, a double major and minor. That’s 18 FCE, with exactly two courses left to CR/NCR. It is not difficult to imagine that in U of T’s success-driven culture, students would want to maximize the utility of their degree, taking as few filler courses as possible. 

The CR/NCR option is, at its core, a last resort. The more likely scenario is that students would want to use this option for courses that are needed to fulfill program requirements.

The Arts and Science Student Union voiced these points in a letter to FAS Dean Melanie Woodin, advocating for the inclusion of program requirements as a part of the CR/NCR option, noting, “Most (if not all) the courses taken within an academic year are courses which count towards program requirements.” 

Hence, the far more likely option is that students who are struggling with a program requirement course will have to retake it in an attempt to improve their grade. This will probably be done during the summer, forcing an added stress onto those who are already in precarious financial situations. 

Not only do the requirements for CR/NCR delay the process of completing a degree, forcing students to spend more money on their education, but they also force students to drop courses, since — at UTSG and UTSC, unlike UTM — you cannot retake a course in which you’ve already obtained a credit, no matter how bad your grade in the course is. 

The lack of this option or the option to CR/NCR program required courses at UTSG and UTSC puts students in an impossible situation: stick with a course you are struggling with and risk a dip in your GPA, or drop the course, negating all the work you have put in.

If you know enough to objectively pass a course and gain a credit for it, you should have that knowledge count toward the fulfillment of your program, even if you decide to CR/NCR that course. A grade does not depreciate in value if you cannot see what it is. The administration should stop enacting half-measures and finally take the step that would make a tangible difference for the students it supposedly values.

Radmila Yarovayais a third-year ethics, society, and law student at Trinity College.