Georgetown University announced additional reforms to its grading policy for the spring semester April 2 following weeks of student lobbying for more lenient academic standards amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the new system, graduate and undergraduate students may choose to take their classes for a letter grade or a mark of Satisfactory (S), Credit (C) or No-Credit (NC), according to an email from university Provost Robert Groves. Under the three-tier scale, students receive a Satisfactory designation for grades A through C, Credit for a C-, D+ or D, and No-Credit for an F. Students have until April 28 to choose their grading standard.
The university previously amended the grading policy March 14, allowing students to take their spring semester classes pass/fail. To pass, a student would have had to earn a grade of C or higher. Many students criticized this short-lived grading policy for unfairly disadvantaging students who have been adversely impacted by the transition to instructional continuity.
Some leading student advocates are still dissatisfied with the latest policy change. GUSA Vice President Bryce Badger (MSB ’21), a vocal proponent for academic accommodations, says the measure does not do enough to alleviate the new stresses of pandemic college life.
“I appreciate that the university heard us in saying that the opt-in p/f system wasn’t equitable for all students and made changes, but the reality is that change didn’t go far enough,” Badger wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Across the student body, the new grading system has been met with frustration, disappointment, and angst.”
Badger previously led the push for a Double A grading system under which faculty would decide between giving students either an A or A-. A petition supporting the policy garnered over 1,500 signatures by March 29.
The new system does not sufficiently address the issues of inequality present in the previous system, according to Varsha Menon (SFS ’21), another student involved in advocacy efforts.
“The current opt-in system is inequitable because it creates a stigma for those who don’t have the ability/resources to earn a grade now versus those who do,” Menon wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It also maintains the option to fail, and students believe that no one should fail due to extenuating circumstances out of their control. No one should have to fail a class during the semester of a pandemic, especially if they have unstable housing situations.”
The university defended the new policy, saying it accounted for a variety of factors and worked toward easing the stress on students. The amended grading system makes it easier for students to succeed academically, according to a university spokesperson.
“This new shift significantly broadens the range of a ‘Pass.’ Under the initial and standing policy, a P was a C or better,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Through the addition of CR, students who might slip into the C-, D+, and D range are assured of passing and of not having to repeat a course. The NC designation means the F grade on the transcript is removed for the Spring 2020 term.”
Professor Kathryn Olesko said the new grading policy will help alleviate the academic burden on students during the pandemic.
“The current S/U or P/F system at Georgetown does not give course credit to anyone earning a C-, D+, or D. The course would have to be repeated. That is harshly unfair in a time of pandemic when students are under the most pressure,” Olesko wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Some students, who are working in less-than-optimal conditions, are likely prone to slipping dangerously close to that level of performance.”
Olesko is the chair of the Main Campus Executive Faculty, a faculty body that is responsible for making academic policy in collaboration with the Office of the Provost and the Deans. The MCEF’s Steering Committee is in charge of screening policy proposals for the Executive Faculty, according to the MCEF’s constitution.
The MCEF Steering Committee entertained a slate of proposals — including Double A and an extended deadline for the previous pass/fail model — before landing on the new system, according to Olesko.
The MCEF originally recommended that the new system be mandatory, Olesko wrote.
“The Steering Committee also recommended that this option should be mandatory (universal) so that there is no nuance or distinction between students (as in the Harvard example),” Olesko wrote. “The motivation for this proposal was compassion for students and the extraordinary circumstances they now find themselves in.”
The Georgetown University Law Center instituted a mandatory pass/fail grading system for all J.D. students April 3. Masters of Law students at the Law Center can choose to take classes pass/fail.
Though the university entertained student proposals students were left in the dark about the university’s deliberations, according to Badger.
“No students were notified any of this had taken place or that these bodies had begun developing their own new proposal which would go on to be implemented as ‘S/CR/NC,’” Badger wrote. “I’m very appreciative that the university is taking steps to level the playing field, but it is my opinion that the best solution to the inequities that exist in our grading systems must come from students not the university.”
GUSA plans on teaming up with student advocacy groups like “Hoyas for an Equitable COVID-19 Response” to push for a no-fail grading policy for the spring 2020 semester, according to Badger.
“GUSA remains committed to advocating for a change in this semester’s grading policy, it is our belief that nobody under any circumstances should fail a course this semester,” Badger wrote. “I think with our combined efforts we’ll be able to make a case for a no fail semester.”