Faculty to Consider Special Proposal on Student Grading for Spring 2020 Semester

8 min read

Kat Namon ’22

Managing Editor

The faculty will consider a proposal on a revised grading system for the spring semester at a virtual faculty meeting this Wednesday, Mar. 25. The College’s Academic Affairs and Curriculum Committee met last Thursday, Mar. 19 and have been working over the weekend to bring joint motions to the faculty. Among the primary items addressed in the proposal is the use of the Pass/Low Pass/Fail (P/LP/F) grading option and relaxing Academic Affairs petition restrictions and deadlines for late drops.

The key changes proposed include allowing all students, including those presently on academic probation, to convert “some or all of their classes to Pass/Low Pass/Fail” with adviser consent, allowing faculty to change the grading basis for courses to P/LP/F through a petition process, removing the limit of four P/LP/F courses for the spring 2020 semester only, and allowing courses where a “P” is received to count toward distribution requirements. A separate motion, if passed, will also give departments and programs flexibility to allow P/LP/F courses to count toward major requirements.

The Tripod received a copy of the motions from Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Molly Helt, Co-Chair of the Academic Affairs Committee. Helt told the Tripod that “we believe that our proposal gives students the maximum number of options…Students will have the option after seeing their grades, to decide if they want to convert some or all of their classes to P/LP/F.”

Any of the dispensation granted in these motions is contingent on the vote of the faculty at their Wednesday, Mar. 25 meeting.

The motion’s provisions would allow students to convert some or all of their courses to P/LP/F, 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 also provides faculty with the option to convert the grading basis for their courses to P/LP/F after petitioning the College’s Curriculum Committee. If a faculty petition is approved for a course, students will not be permitted to receive a grade for the course.

The faculty will also have the option to award an incomplete for courses during the spring semester at their “discretion.” An incomplete awarded during the spring 2020 semester would afford students “up to 365 days” to complete remaining coursework with a faculty member. If a student failed to complete the coursework within the 365 day period or did not obtain an extension from the Academic Affairs Committee, grades would by default be converted to an “F.” Faculty would also be required within thirty days under the proposed motion to submit a “plan with the department or program…specifying the work that remains to be completed.”

In addition, the motion states that for the spring 2020 semester only “a notation will appear on the transcript of all students stating that the semester was completed during an emergency.”

Further, under the proposed motion, courses taken for P/LP/F credit this semester will not count toward the limit of four that students are allocated. Further, the proposal will allow courses designated as a “Pass” to count for general education distribution requirements, writing proficiency requirements, language concentration requirements, and quantitative literacy requirements.

The Tripod spoke with Curriculum Committee student representative Brendan Lynch ’20, who spoke in favor of the proposal, calling it “rock-solid.” Lynch explained his own thinking, stating that “at first, I felt that we needed to go mandatory P/F for all classes. After discussions in the (virtual) room and hearing, in particular, points raised by the other students on our two committees, I came to realize that optional P/F is the better route, and that’s what’s in the proposal.” Lynch stressed that student participation was key, adding that “between Academic Affairs and Curriculum, we’ve had 6 students in the room sharing our feedback, making our own proposals, and voting on what to do.”

SGA Vice President for Communications Jack Stone ’22, a student representative on the Academic Affairs Committee, echoed Lynch’s comments, adding that “both committees have student members who were involved in the drafting of these plans.” Stone continued, noting that on Wednesday he “will be virtually attending the Faculty meeting on Zoom where these motions will be considered and voted on. We will have a definitive answer after that, and that decision will be sent out to the entire Student Body.”

As to when students could expect a final decision, Interim Dean of Faculty Sonia Cardenas told the Tripod that “for many of us, allowing students to have a choice over how they will be assessed was a top priority.  I expect the committees will report the faculty vote to students by the end of this week.” 

Lynch added that the motion includes more than just Pass/Fail grading for the current semester, telling the Tripod that “It’s important to note that while the meat of the proposal has to do with P/LP/F grading, it also relaxes some other academic policies for this semester.”

Helt also spoke to the motion’s proposal on deadlines for late drops with the Academic Affairs Committee, adding that “students heading into finals who feel that they are failing may petition for a late drop, with instructor and adviser permission. Note that our intention is that no student’s GPA be harmed by this plan. At the same time, by making this ‘opt-in,’ we hope that students who are able to continue to work for high grades and improve their GPAs are still able to do so.” Under the proposed motion, students may petition for a late drop for “one or more courses up until April 30th.” Students are also permitted to carry a reduced course load without incurring academic probation for the spring 2020 semester.

Despite the opportunities afforded to students to adjust their course load, the motion requires that students who receive financial aid and petition to drop below four credits must continue to check with the Financial Aid Office to ensure that they remain in good standing. Similarly, international students who petition to drop below four credits must receive approval from the international student adviser prior to being permitted to drop below four courses.

The motions address many of the concerns that have been circulating amongst students in the form of an online petition. This petition, started by Trinity students last week, requests that the administration consider making a pass/fail option for spring 2020 semester grades. As of Tuesday, Mar. 23, the petition had garnered 806 names and voices a wide range of student concerns on the subject. The petition contends that the experience of remote education presents a distinct challenge, as “being at school gives students many privileges they might not have at home such as printing access, wireless connection, and the ability to meet with professors and teaching assistants in person. Moving home and trying to make the conditions of your environment align with what it was like being at Trinity is impossible.” 

Other peer-institutions have also made the shift to providing a pass/fail option for students, including Northwestern University, Smith College, Mount Holyoke, Boston College, and Grinnell College. Associate Professor of Theater and Dance Mitch Polin, Chair of the Curriculum Committee, told the Tripod that “the Committee and the administration have paid close attention to the decisions made by our peer institutions so that all decisions are fully informed. However, our own decisions will be framed by the specificity of our own situation…The Committee is committed to providing options for both the students and faculty.”

The faculty had previously approved an emergency academic framework for the College, relaxing regulations on hybrid and online courses and authorizing the College’s Curriculum Committee to take action on certain matters and investing faculty with the ability to determine the “content of the course and the assessment of the students.”

Trinity College has been closed since Mar. 16 and courses have been held remotely effective Mar. 23 in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis nationwide. On Mar. 17, President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney determined that remote instruction would be extended and remain in force through the remainder of the semester.

Helt emphasized that these motions are subject to change even before the faculty meeting set for tomorrow afternoon, telling the Tripod that “there may be changes or additions that continue to appear before the meeting. For example, today we have a new request that if students want to be done with the semester, that they be allowed to get half a credit and their mid term grade assigned.”

Lynch, too, cautioned that while he has “seen a summary of the motion circulating among students which covers everything the faculty will be taking up,” that motion “could be amended during the faculty meeting where it will be voted on.”

These two motions were ultimately approved at a meeting of the faculty on Mar. 25, 2020.


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

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