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No-P/D/F policy rescinded for COS 126, remains for COS 217, 226

Following the adoption of a no-pass/D/fail policy for COS 126, 217 and 226 last spring, the computer science department has now reinstated the P/D/F option for COS 126: General Computer Science.

In May, a couple months after the policy was announced, Dean of the College Valerie Smith and Dean of the Faculty David Dobkinapproached Andrew Appel '81, computer science department chair, and requested that the department reconsider its implementation of a no-P/D/F policy for COS 126, Appel said.


Smith and Dobkin “requested that we reconsider and offered to help in various resource constraints we were running up against,” Appel explained.

William O. Baker Professor of Computer Science Robert Sedgewick, a lecturer and developer of COS 126,also cited student lobbying to the administration and to the department as an impetus for the policy change. Several students who were disappointed with the adoption of a no-P/D/F policy approached Sedgewick and Appel in the spring, Sedgewick said.

The teaching staff then met in mid-June to discuss the policy change following the administration's request. Sedgewick explained that, as the course instructor, he made the final decision about the policy.

The original implementation of the no-P/D/F policy followed a teaching faculty meeting in December 2012 to discuss their response to the rise in enrollment for the introductory COS courses. Sedgewick attributed the adoption of this policy to a lack of resources.Additionally, Appel explained that the difference in the effort required to P/D/F the course and to take it for a grade was not large.

In the past five years, the number of students enrolled in COS 126 has grown about five times in size, Sedgewick explained. However, the staff size has not grown at the same rate. Other resource constraints experienced by the department are office availability, undergraduate graders, lecturers and preceptors.

In order to allow more students to enroll in the course, the department hired a new lecturer for the fall semester, Sedgewick said.


The department has also begun renovation of the computer science building in order to create new office space, Appel explained.

Nonetheless, growing class sizes will continue to place pressure on the department, and they will continue to “stretch to find ways around resource constraints,” Appel noted. This includes sharing offices between preceptors and using space in the Engineering Quadrangle.

Sedgewick recalled several discussions with upperclassman students in his COS 488 class about the course P/D/F policy, which “mostly revolved around why the administration isn’t giving us the resources we need,” he noted.“We need hugely more resources than we currently have.”

While Appel confirmed that the department plans to maintain the P/D/F option for COS 126 students, the department will continue its policy of not capping enrollment.

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“In general, the University and the computer science department would like to offer any course to any student. And so, it’s a matter of finding the resources to do so,” Appel said.As of Sept. 19, 311 students were enrolled in the course, according to the Registrar.

Jun Kuromiya ’14, a philosophy concentrator who took COS 126 his freshman year,explained that the P/D/F option sometimes allows students who have little previous experience in the subject to gain interest and ultimately decide to concentrate in computer science. Hecited a heavy academic schedule in spite of a general interest in the course as a reason for electing the P/D/F option.

“It was definitely easier to decide to take it as a result of the P/D/F option,” Kuromiya said.

COS 217 and 226 will remain no-P/D/F. Appel said that since the two courses are prerequisites for the major, most students enrolled would have to take them for grades anyway.