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.”