Letter to the Editor: The case for a stronger NRO

The Miscellany News.

As a Class Senator who sits on the VSA Academics Committee, I can say that we do important work in order to help the student body. This year, we introduced several new policies. In December, we passed the Overload Policy, which will provide students with two semesters in which they can register for five credits. This change will be codified in the upcoming year. Considering how hard it is to get overloads approved, this policy will clarify overload guidelines and expectations. This past week, we passed a policy in collaboration with the Equity Executive and the Office for Accessibility and Educational Opportunity to make it easier for students with chronic illnesses to get accommodations that modify attendance policies. 

In my opinion, the strongest example of our academics-based advocacy in VSA is the new Non-Recorded-Option (NRO) policy. This year, we’ve been working really hard to extend the NRO option and help all the students at Vassar.

First, some background on the NRO. According to the Registrar’s page, once a class is NRO-ed and you’ve picked your minimum grade, there are three options, which is why I personally call NRO the Letter/Pass/Fail option. Either you get your letter grade (above the minimum you set), you pass or you fail. Letter and Fail get factored into your GPA. Pass does not. Currently on the table is the ENRO policy, or the Emergency NRO policy. To explain this, I’d like you all to cast your minds back about a year, to the spring outbreak of norovirus. If you were on campus and had norovirus, you know how hard it was to catch up on missed classes after being sick. People went to the hospital and couldn’t go to classes. I went to the hospital and went to maybe three classes that whole week. That meant that people like me had a lot of catching up to do, especially if they had exams during the last week of classes. (I’m looking at some of the STEM departments here, but we love you, so it’s okay.) This new policy would help in these emergency cases, when the NRO deadline has passed but there are some extenuating circumstances. 

Now we come to the project that I and others on the Academics Committee have been working on all year: the Language NRO Policy. This policy arose from the Annual Comprehensive Survey we sent out at the end of last year. Overwhelmingly, students said that they wanted to see the language requirement changed. Some wanted to abolish it, while others wanted to see reforms. As the VSA needed to get departments and administrators to agree with any changes, we took the approach of working toward more NRO options. 

The basis of this policy would make all 100-level languages NRO-able while still fulfilling the language requirement. At the start of this past fall semester (Fall 2022), the following elementary language classes were NRO-able: Arabic, Hebrew, Korean, Latin and Spanish. This left quite a few language classes that were not NRO-able, like Chinese, French, Italian and Russian. But through emails and meetings with various departments, several of them acknowledged our statement and made changes, or informed us that they had independently made these changes, based upon observations they had made and our continued advocacy. You will see that come Fall 2023, the following Elementary languages are NRO-able: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Spanish.

It is worth pointing out that German was not marked as a language class last year, and that Elementary Greek starts in the spring term, making the Fall 2023 course the second half of Elementary Greek. Additionally, we met with the Italian Department to discuss this, but the Department said that making Elementary Italian NRO-able does not align with its pedagogical values and will not be feasible. The Department has said that this is a stance they will maintain in the near future.

We believe that this change supports a liberal arts pedagogy. Our open curriculum encourages students to try classes outside of their comfort zones, without fear of failure. NROs allow students to deeply immerse themselves in these new topics and experiences. Personally, I wanted to take Hebrew during my first semester here. After leaving the classroom on my first day, I was so overwhelmed that I decided to go back to Latin, which I had studied before. If I had NRO-ed the class, that would have lifted a weight off of my shoulders, and I would have been able to enjoy the class without feeling scared that it would have tanked my GPA. 

In terms of equity, the new policy provides students with learning disabilities–and other challenges–more support than they would have without a language NRO. Many students come to Vassar without strong language experience. Since taking a language is a requirement to graduate, the Language NRO will make learning languages a better experience for these students.

The NRO exists to alleviate anxiety about classes. While this proposal doesn’t change the number of NROs allotted, it expands the NRO’s ability to alleviate students’ stress, particularly surrounding required classes they may not otherwise take. 

Whether or not you choose to use the NRO towards the language requirement is up to you. All we want, as members of the Academics Committee, is to provide everyone with options to suit their academic journey. This policy will be made into a resolution soon, but for now, when you’re doing your pre-registration and see elementary languages as NRO-able, just think of your VSA senators who have your back and want you to succeed.

This opinion editorial is the private stance of a Class of 2025 Senator and does not express the official opinion of the Vassar Student Association, its membership or any of its bodies. Any references to our position titles in this editorial are made solely for the purpose of identification, not to suggest the VSA’s endorsement. 

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