Course repeat limitations are harmful to students

SFU shouldn't punish students for wanting to increase their knowledge and GPA

Why is SFU stopping us from learning? ILLUSTRATION: Siloam Yeung / The Peak

by Jacob Mattie, SFU Student

Currently, SFU maintains a punitive stance on course repeats, allowing one repeat per course and five in total. Exceptions can be made for students willing to go through the difficult task of seeking the permission of their faculty’s dean — but that may increase potential feelings of shame from failing a course. Regulating duplicate courses also limits students’ ability  to progress through education at their own discretion. These policies are ultimately restrictive and serve no purpose other than to add unnecessary stress to students’ studies.

Passed by the SFU Senate in 1982, this policy on course repeats was one of a series of highly controversial changes by then-Dean of Arts Robert C. Brown. The limitation on course duplicates was said to be a prevention method for students attempting to boost their GPAs. However, this notion was at best misguided, and at worst, willfully destructive. By implementing these changes, the university legitimized the notion that a GPA is a goal unto itself, and is more sought after than the education it is supposed to represent. At the same time, this limit made obtaining and maintaining a high GPA more difficult. This is incongruent with SFU’s role as a school, which should be to embrace the educational value of repetition and failure, not punish it. 

A student cannot take the time to properly question and absorb the material offered if they are studying to avoid failure. Rather than learning material out of pure interest, or desire for knowledge, a student under threat of failure can resort to tragic questions like, “Will we be tested on this?” This fixation on testing shows that priorities have moved away from self-guided learning, to simply being able to regurgitate needed information. This may be appropriate for an institution whose goal is producing degrees, but it’s not for one aiming to produce well-rounded students.

While it is possible that a student would retake a course a number of times to boost their GPA, is that not the entire purpose of education? That students practice material and repeat it to the point that they understand it? If a student deems it appropriate to submit another four months of their life to a course’s workload, we should applaud their commitment, not restrict them from it. 

SFU should encourage the idea of learning from failure, rather than enforcing the notion that anything but immediate success is a flaw that could jeopardize a student’s academic career. It is due time that we rekindle the debate around limitations on course repeats because it’s clear they’ve never been for the benefit of students.