Oct. 15, 2010

X the W

Are you absolutely sure you want the class schedule you have? If not, you have until 5 p.m. today to decide. After that, add/drop is closed, and the only way to get rid of a class is to withdraw—and deal with a dreaded “W” on your transcript.

Needless to say, W’s are highly undesirable. The reason they exist is to discourage students from dropping classes after third week. The University worries—and sometimes rightly so—that a student wanting to leave a course later in the quarter is just trying to lighten a heavy work load, or sidestepping the possibility of a bad grade.

Sure, these aren’t the most honorable reasons to drop a class, but the three-week policy makes no allowance for other, more legitimate issues that can arise. Students don’t exist in a vacuum in which maintaining high GPAs and finishing readings on time are the only issues at hand. Getting a new part-time job, going through a personal crisis, or other unanticipated changes are all perfectly understandable reasons to drop a class. Students shouldn’t be penalized with a W if these issues crop up after the add/drop deadline.

It’s already commonplace for students to drop classes during third week or earlier because they think the exams and assignments will be too hard, or take too much of their time. Is it actually better to do this before fourth week? The W penalty seems to suggest it is, but in a way it seems better to make such decisions later in the quarter, when you know for a fact that the work is too much or the class is too hard.

In any case, when and why a student chooses to drop a class is none of the school’s business. Why micromanage students’ motives for dropping courses? We are capable of changing our minds for sensible reasons, and when we deem it best to drop a class, the University should have faith in that decision.

This is not to say that the University should change its policy that tuition becomes non-refundable after third week. If, sometime between that astronomy midterm and third Hum paper, a student decides that his three classes are too demanding, the money he loses for dropping to part-time status should be on him. But he shouldn’t also have to deal with the basic character defamation that a W connotes.

The ultimate problem with the W is that it casts aspersions on people. It takes a very complicated situation—that is to say, life at the U of C—and reduces it to the often-unfair assumption that a student couldn’t take the work load, or was faring poorly in a class. Not only is the actual situation probably more complex, but even when it isn’t, it’s unnecessarily paternalistic to give out W’s, and dropping the W policy altogether would be an A+ on the Administration’s report card.

The Maroon Editorial Board consits of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and an Editorial Board member.