71 students elect Gaudino for fall courses

This academic year begins the first of the five-year Gaudino option initiative, an experiment designed to encourage students to take courses outside their academic comfort zones by easing student worries about the grade they receive. Seventy-one students have elected the Gaudino option this fall.

According to Mary Morrison, associate registrar for records and registration, of the 71 students who have designated the Gaudino grading option, 58 are seniors, 11 are juniors and two are sophomores.

The Gaudino initiative is named for Robert Gaudino, a professor of political science who taught between 1955 and 1974. The Gaudino initiative allows students to take a class without their final course grades being factored into their GPAs. The initiative was pioneered by Edward Burger, professor of mathematics and former Gaudino Scholar, who is currently on leave.

Last year, Burger surveyed 700 students and of the 369 who responded, 81 percent admitted to having avoided a class of interest because of concerns related to grades.
The Williams College Mission lists several virtues that students should strive toward: One of these virtues is to “explore widely and deeply … and connect ideas creatively.” To promote this exploration, the faculty voted last spring to institute the Gaudino option as a five-year trial beginning this fall.

Students who invoke the option do so without their professors’ knowledge. To have their final grade excluded from their GPAs, students must first achieve a final course grade equal to either a B- or the grade that is .67 GPA points below their GPAs, whichever grade is lower. Additionally, professors must deem the student “intellectually present” in class.

If students who invoke the option are ultimately satisfied with the grade they earned, they can elect to have the grade included in their GPAs retroactively.

Students can designate up to two courses as Gaudino option courses during their time at the College but cannot use courses taken with the Gaudino option to fulfill major, concentration, quantitative, writing, exploring diversity initiative or divisional requirements. Additionally, students cannot use their two Gaudino options during the same semester. They can invoke the option at any time, except for first-years’ first semester and seniors’ last semester.
“I would expect that any preliminary review of data would not be realistic until at least after the fall senior semester for the current sophomore class,” Morrison said. “My own opinion on the Gaudino option will depend on how I see students are using it over time.”

Magnus Bernhardsson, a professor of history who served on the Gaudino Ad Hoc Advisory Committee last year, said he believes time will tell how successful the initiative proves to be.

“It is too early to tell about the success of the program,” Bernhardsson said. “Many people may not invoke their Gaudino option until after the semester ends.”
Ben Seiler ’13, who also served on the committee, said that even if a student who elected the Gaudino option ultimately decides not to invoke it at the end of the semester, it still demonstrates a success of the program because “that means that the student succeeded in the class to the point where they chose to accept [the] grade on their transcript,”
he said.

Seiler went on to add that “anecdotal evidence from professors” will be used to evaluate the option over the next five years, and polling data and exit surveys will also be used to assess the program.

“Hopefully [the program] creates the safety net that would allow a physics major to take a poetry class,” he said.
Bernhardsson stressed that the nature of the program “is
not predicated on numbers per se.

“It is not about quantity [of participants], but the quality of [students’] experience that is key,” he said.