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Half of students respond to ALTA

ALTA committee chair and former USG President Michael Yaroshefsky ’12 said that because he was excited by the response rate — which, in terms of student contact with the USG, is second only to Lawnparties — he chose to include a few pie charts detailing preliminary results in an email last week to the student body.

ALTA, which was conceived in February 2011, aims to assess students’ opinions on a wide range of academic topics including the University’s grade deflation policy, the course selection process, the quality of professor and preceptor instruction and the amount and value of homework and reading assignments. Yaroshefsky said that the ALTA committee has not fully analyzed the results but that he will begin conversations with Dean of the College Valerie Smith on Wednesday.


“It’s impossible to say anything substantive about hearsay,” said Yaroshefsky. This “hard data,” he said, will inform “soft anecdotes” gathered from the campus dialogue and from profiles of nine students conducted by the ALTA committee.

The ALTA survey also asked for student feedback on sample policy recommendations, many of which hinted at substantial policy changes that the USG could pursue. Some academic reforms that the survey posed to students included allowing all students to rescind a pass/D/fail option after determining what grade they earned for the semester, moving Dean’s Date to the end of exam period, and starting the fall semester earlier while moving exams to before winter break.

Yaroshefsky said, however, that the survey questions are not necessarily indicative of any potential USG platform.

“Frankly, we are not going to suggest the same policies that we put on the survey,” said Yaroshefsky, who noted the objective was not “to put forth nuanced and comprehensive recommendations,” but to assess general student opinion. Yaroshefsky said that very few questions elicited incredibly strong support or opposition.

According to the preliminary data released in the email, about 56 percent of the respondents “oppose” or “strongly oppose” the University’s controversial grade deflation policy. Only 27.5 percent “support” or “strongly support” it.

Yaroshefsky, who cautioned against drawing major conclusions from the preliminary data, said that it was “interesting” that the survey revealed a “gray area” of students who were neither for nor against the current grading policy — 16.5 percent of respondents were unsure or had no opinion.


46.1 percent of the students that responded said that professors “often” or “sometimes” justify lower grades for a student by citing the grading policy. A combined 34.7 percent said “rarely” or “never.”

According to Yaroshefsky, the University and former Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel, who spearheaded grade deflation, have made it clear that the policy should not be interpreted this way.

The ALTA committee will continue to interpret the data and aims to present its final recommendations during the March 26 meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community.

“We’ll prioritize our recommendations based on where we can have a really strong impact based on a lot of information,” Yaroshefsky said. “We’ll try to balance difficult but important issues with more low-lying fruit.”

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Yaroshefsky will continue as ALTA chair with support from current USG President Bruce Easop ’13. Other committee members include former USG Vice President Catherine Ettman ’13, USG executive analyst Shyam Modi ’14, USG academics chair Steven Rosen ’13, Rafael Grinberg ’12, Emily Levy ’13, Rebecca Scharfstein ’12, and USG executive secretary John McNamara ’14, who serves as a supporting member. The ALTA Advisory Board includes Senior Associate Dean of the College Claire Fowler and nine other administrators and faculty members.

Clarification: A previous version of this article misstated a comparison between the ALTA survey and Lawnparties. The comparison is with the Lawnparties event, not a survey about it.