Intentional failing discouraged by CS policy change

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A new electrical engineering and computer sciences department policy revision for the upcoming semester aims to discourage intended computer science majors from intentionally failing lower division prerequisite classes.

The policy revision will cause retake grades of lower division CS major prerequisite classes to be calculated alongside failing or no pass grades rather than replacing them when calculating whether students meet the major’s GPA cap. Currently, students must have a 3.30, or a B+ average, in the required lower division courses in order to apply to the CS major, prompting some to intentionally fail classes in order to later retake them and improve their odds of meeting the GPA requirement.

The revision will not apply to a student’s official campus GPA but will be calculated into the CS prerequisite major GPA. This change will not apply to any courses taken fall 2016 or before.

“We get one after another where they’re asking if they should purposely fail the class,” said Christopher Hunn, director of undergraduate student instruction in electrical engineering and computer sciences. “Students even say this when they have Bs. … Many of them could’ve done well enough if they stuck it out.”

Hunn cited strains on enrollment alongside delayed student progress as reasons for the change.

According to Professor John DeNero, CS course capacity and student demand is at an all-time high. Teaching load more than tripled, according to DeNero, from the 2007-08 school year to 2015-16, yet the faculty grew by 18 percent in the same time frame.

Currently, the number of undeclared students enrolled in the major lower division CS classes — the CS61 series and CS70 —  is 1,939, according to Hunn, with the vast majority intending CS.

According to Hunn, intentionally failing is a prevalent issue, brought up constantly with advisers and faculty as a potential option. Hunn said the lower division faculty have all brought the issue up on multiple occasions.

“The students who do contemplate failing on purpose are placed in a very difficult position under the old policy: they must guess what grade they might receive in a course before they have completed a substantial portion of the coursework,” DeNero said in an email. “Several students in the last few years have reported to me personally that they felt very uncertain and later regretted their decisions.”

Sophomore Adnan Hemani, a declared CS major, argues that the change, while necessary for the department, will close off another small hope.

“There are definitely people who’ve had rough circumstances outside of the classroom when they haven’t been able to perform to their fullest,” Hemani said. “One bad midterm could be the difference between declaring CS and not declaring CS. This policy really removes any chance of you getting a second chance.”

Contact Edward Booth at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Edward_E_Booth.

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  • Mark Talmont

    The rationing model of education prevails at UC.

    The undergraduate programs at Cal were never all that great after the tantrum-throwing brats in the 60s tore the place up. The one truism that I’m sure continues is it’s insanely competitive; but the egomaniacs who preside of this sad state of affairs better get a clue, as much of the world is moving right out from under them. The sheer pressures of global competition are driving human resource decisions to be based more on identifiable skill sets and less on some supposed prestige of an institution. You can learn a great deal online for free right now, and many well-known and regarded institutions are offering web-based alternatives. It’s worth remembering that Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Bill Gates were all drop outs! And you better watch out for Peter Thiel; what if one of his fellows started a school?

    now there is the kind of thinking we need–but certainly won’t get–on the Board of Regents. Oh well, this will all be moot in about 5-7 years when the state goes belly up over unfundability of the public pensions.

  • Charlie Chan

    A friend from UC Berkeley told me about this (Not News) news item.

    I am currently a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student and a former UC Berkeley freshman.

    UC Berkeley creates too many barriers for students to gain entry into Computer Science:
    – Many of the lower division classes I needed for computer science were either filled to capacity
    or closed.
    – GPA admission requirement have recently been increased.

    I transferred to Cal Poly and have not been disappointed:
    – Cal Poly’s CS classes have less than 40 people, while at UC Berkeley the number tends to be well
    over 100.
    – Employers seem to like Cal Poly students a little more (than UC Berkeley students, for example),
    because Cal Poly students learn by doing.
    – Every person I talked with has had (seniors) or will have (juniors) an internship done/lined up for the
    summer after junior year.
    – All of the seniors I talk with have a full time offer or plan to make a startup after they

    • JoeyWC

      Please don’t compare a world leading university to a marginal csu….you just look foolish.

      • Ibrahim Awwal

        As a Berkeley alum, stop making us look like tools! Cal Poly is a great school too.

    • Professor S Freeman

      Smart move Charlie!

      UC Berkeley is really quite backward in the way the University delivers education. While just about every major university has moved many courses and degrees online, UC Berkeley is stuck in the mid twentieth century. The Computer Science Department should contact Georgia Tech ( for guidance on delivering education in the twenty first century.

      • Ibrahim Awwal

        If you bothered to spend five minutes, you’d find that Berkeley professors have been offering MOOCs for years. And I’m quite sceptical about the actual value of the Online Master’s in CS, seeing as they stuck the Online qualifier on it to distance it from the in person version. That said, I strongly believe that in this day and age you dont need a degree in CS to work in 90% of industry jobs, so people shouldn’t be discouraged if they can’t get the Berkeley CA label on their diploma. Being self taught can often be better than having a high profile degree.

    • Ibrahim Awwal

      That’s great for you, but I’m not really sure what you want the department to do in response to 3x the influx of prospective students over a short period of time. Maybe people should follow your lead and go to other schools; while I graduated just before the insanity started I don’t think I really would have gotten appreciably worse of an education at other UCs or CSUs. And I think for a lot of people, the competition at Berkeley does more harm than good. It’s great for a certain type of student, but most people would do better at a smaller school like Cal Poly.

      I think at a place like Berkeley, you have to learn practical skills in side projects. I use very little class knowledge in my day job.