Faculty votes to allow students to use prior fifth courses to fill deficiencies

Max Billick


The faculty approved the permanent change in a Feb. 15 meeting. (Theo Duarte-Baird/The Willams Record)

The faculty voted 41-1 on Feb. 15 to permanently allow students to resolve a course deficiency using a fifth course taken before the deficiency was incurred.

The policy change was first made in 2020, when the Committee on Academic Standing (CAS) proposed a three-year pilot program to allow deficiencies to be resolved with prior fifth courses. This move was part of a broader initiative to reevaluate many of the College’s policies, including the College’s long-standing rule that deficiencies had to be resolved after they were incurred. Upon the pilot program’s conclusion, the permanent policy change will become effective for the fall 2023 semester.

The change will affect roughly five students each year who incur deficiencies and also have prior fifth courses. So far, under the pilot program, CAS has received 13 petitions to use a fifth course to cover a deficiency, all of which it has granted. The policy will allow students to take more of their classes at the College rather than other institutions and prevent them from being forced to take on extra work at a time in their college careers when they are still recovering from academic trouble.

In an interview with the Record, CAS member and Assistant Professor of Russian Olga Kim said the policy change seemed like an obvious step to simplify the process of making up for a deficiency. “That made sense to me — why not approve an already-taken course? I don’t see why not and why it wasn’t the case before,” she said.

Though the pilot program was implemented soon after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, CAS’s effort to change the policy predates the pandemic, CAS Chair and Professor of Computer Science Stephen Freund told the Record. CAS brought the pilot program proposal to the faculty before the campus closure.

Before the pilot program began, students who incurred deficiencies from failing or withdrawing from a course needed to fill the deficiency by completing a future fifth course, summer class at a different institution, or an intensive Winter Study course. “We proposed a three-year trial to ensure the change in academic policy would not have any unintended consequences,” Freund said.

Freund also said that the previous rules posed an unnecessary burden upon students who needed to take a fifth course after already doing so prior to incurring a deficiency. “If students have to take additional courses, they’re likely doing so at a time when they’re trying to get themselves back on their feet academically,” he said. “We’d like to avoid having them do that if there is a viable alternative… The bottom line is that if the College’s degree requirement is completing 32 courses, then we want to make sure that nobody’s ever expected to complete more than that,” he continued.