Faculty Approve Emergency Pass/Fail, Other Academic Measures, Provide Relief to Students

4 min read

Brendan Clark ’21 and Kat Namon ’22

Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor

The faculty voted to approve emergency motions on pass/fail standards for students, along with other emergency academic measures, at a virtual faculty meeting this afternoon. Among the most significant changes, students will have expanded access to utilizing the pass/fail option for the spring 2020 semester. The proposals, as reported by the Tripod yesterday, passed after two hours of debate amongst the faculty.

The motions passed unchanged in substance from those previously reported by the Tripod. According to Curriculum Committee student member Brendan Lynch ’20, “an amendment which would allow faculty to designate their own course P/LP/F without going through a petition process failed.”

Secretary of the Faculty and Associate Professor of Economics Mark Stater spoke with the Tripod, adding that the meeting “was a great example of faculty governance working for the good of our students, the faculty, and the institution.”

Among the major options now available to students is the ability to change “some or all of their classes to Pass/Low Pass/Fail” with adviser consent. Students will be able to convert courses, with adviser permission, in a period “between May 10 and June 30” after such grades have been posted. Students who had previously been enrolled in study abroad programs and are accordingly receiving their grades from other institutions will have “30 days after their study away coursework has been posted” to make the conversion. 

The motion, as passed, also permits faculty to change the grading basis for courses to P/LP/F through a petition process to the College’s Curriculum Committee. The limit of four P/LP/F courses for the spring 2020 semester only was lifted and courses where a “P” is received may count toward distribution requirements for the spring 2020 semester.

The approved motion also affords faculty the ability to award incompletes at their “discretion” and will provide a transcript notation that the spring semester was completed “during an emergency.”

A separate motion also passed which gives departments and programs flexibility to allow P/LP/F courses to count toward major requirements. It was not immediately clear when guidance would be directly communicated to the student body, though Interim Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Sonia Cardenas told the Tripod yesterday that guidance would be forthcoming, adding that she expects that “committees will report the faculty vote to students by the end of this week.”

The motions came jointly from the College’s Curriculum Committee, chaired by Associate Professor of Theater and Dance Mitch Polin, and the Academic Affairs Committee, co-chaired by Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Molly Helt and Associate Professor of Public Policy and Law Rachel Moskowitz. The meeting had been called Stater, who had worked extensively with the committees to assist with the process of undertaking the faculty’s first meeting since the College’s closure on Mar. 16.

Stater emphasized the importance of the College’s Information Technology team to making the meeting happen, adding that he wants “to take every chance I have to praise Jason Jones and Dave Tatem of the Research, Instruction, and Technology Department…. There is simply no way we could have done this without their help, and they have the gratitude of the entire faculty.”

The faculty based their decision on grading procedures, in part, in accordance with their previously approved emergency academic framework for the College in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Student input was also an important part of the meeting, with student representatives to the College’s Curriculum and Academic Affairs Committees speaking in strong support of giving students flexibility in amending their grades within the pass/fail system.

SGA Vice President for Communications Jack Stone ’22 told the Tripod that “SGA is very pleased with the results and is grateful for and appreciative of the diligent work that faculty and SGA representatives have done on this matter.” Stater echoed these comments, telling the Tripod that he believes “the faculty took to heart the students’ arguments about wanting to have a choice and strongly felt that students will face struggles moving forward. We wanted to help them get through this in the best way possible.”

Students had expressed serious concerns and the need for action on grading requirements in recent days. As the Tripod previously reported, a petition had circulated among students, garnering more than 800 signatures, urging for flexibility in pass/fail procedures.


Brendan W. Clark '21 is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Trinity Tripod, Trinity College's student newspaper.

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