The Georgetown University Student Association circulated a petition for a Double A grading system to address the challenging circumstances many students face as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Under the proposed grading system, faculty would decide between giving students either an A or A-, with no mandated distribution requirements, according to GUSA Vice President Bryce Badger (MSB ’21). The petition has garnered over 1,500 signatures from students, faculty and student organizations as of March 29.
To address the abrupt shift to a virtual learning environment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Provost Robert Groves announced March 14 that the university adjusted the grading policy for the spring 2020 semester. The shift allowed undergraduate students to take their courses pass/fail this semester and extended the withdrawal deadline until the last day of classes.
GUSA circulated the petition, inspired by a similar proposal created by students at Harvard College, to mitigate penalties faced by students who are experiencing extenuating circumstances in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Badger.
“A core principle of Georgetown University which we all subscribe to as students is Academic Excellence. Academic Excellence entails uncovering truth and discovering meaning. This approach allows students to focus on just that,” Badger wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Without a fear of subpar grades students are able to focus on learning, furthering our education and our pursuit of the spirit of Georgetown.”
The university’s efforts to address the challenges many students are currently facing are not enough to alleviate the diverse challenges facing students as they adjust to online learning during the public health crisis, according to the GUSA petition for a Double A policy.
“The current grading mechanism disproportionately impacts Hoyas who come from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, are international students, students with disabilities, undocumented students, and many other populations who experience a myriad of extenuating circumstances rendering them unable to perform academically to their fullest ability, in the least optimal environments,” the petition reads.
At this time, the university is not considering implementing the Double A grading system because of the changes Georgetown already made, according to a university spokesperson.
“We have a policy in place that is intended to be fair, flexible and give students choice,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We were among the very first in the country to allow pass/fail options on all courses, and it is consistent with a large number of other institutions that have adopted similar policies.”
Georgetown students advocating for a Double A policy worked with other universities around the country that are proposing similar systems to address these disparities between students, Badger wrote.
“We’re currently involved in a coalition of schools that continues to grow everyday where we are sharing resources and strategies for organizing for grade system changes,” Badger wrote. “We’re working with Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Berkley [sic], and Princeton.”
Harvard did not adopt undergraduate legislation endorsing a Double A policy. Instead, the Harvard administration instituted a universal satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading system for the semester, according to The Harvard Crimson.
In addition to Harvard, schools including Columbia, Stanford, Dartmouth and University of California, Berkeley, have instituted mandatory pass/fail grading for the spring term. Universities including Yale and the University of Pennsylvania have adopted opt-in pass/fail grading policies similar to Georgetown’s.
Students have also drafted a petition titled “Pass or ‘Current Grades or Higher,’” in which students would be able to choose between passing their courses or receiving grades no lower than they had on March 6, 2020, before spring break began.
The “Pass of ‘Current Grades or Higher’” petition directly opposes the Double A grading system, saying it devalues the merit and worth of an A. The petition also states that the Double A grading system is unlikely to be passed by administration.
“We hope that, by proposing a more moderate approach, it is more likely that Georgetown academic administrators will consider our proposal,” the petition reads. “We have interacted with a number of faculty members who have expressed their disapproval of ‘Double-A.’”
The GUSA Senate passed a resolution voicing support for the Double A grading system at their weekly meeting March 29. GUSA Senator Henry Dai (SFS ’22), one of two senators to vote against the motion, said a Double A system would disincentivize student academic engagement.
“I trust our professors, I trust our deans, I trust our students to work to find ways to better support students,” Dai said in an interview with The Hoya. “Double A, for GPA purposes, that would be great. But for actual students’ production, for student performance, for education that we receive from Georgetown, I think that would have negative consequences.”
This article was updated April 8 to reflect a recent development in GUSA legislation.