After two hours of debate, over 140 faculty members voted on Monday to update the College’s grading policy to an opt-out Pass/Fail basis for the remainder of the semester. In allowing students to see their grades and then make the choice of whether to keep them marked as Pass/Fail (P/F), this solution accounts for all students: those who need their grades, as well as those who feel that remote learning will not be representative of their work as a student.
This decision differs from the initial updated grading policy announced the week before, which stated that students had until May 1 to change their courses to Pass/D/Fail. Students may now elect to uncover their grades at any time, even if that time is years after graduation.
Seniors have an optional deadline of May 26 if they would like to unveil grades for them to count for Latin honors, such as cum laude, or eligibility for Phi Beta Kappa. Likewise, first year students, sophomores, and juniors have until April 15 in the year they anticipate graduating to opt-in to letter grades from this semester for Latin honors and eligibility for Phi Beta Kappa.
“We hope that this policy allows for students to find the right way to finish the semester as successfully as possible,” Dean of Academic Advising Thomas Hawks said. “It’s a compromise that allows for students to find the best grading option for themselves.”
This decision came after three consecutive faculty meetings on the issue and a lengthy letter issued by the Black Student Union (BSU), which advocated for a universal Credit/No Credit (CR/NC) grading system for the semester. The letter, circulated as an email among the senior class minutes before it was published in the Collegian last Friday, stated that the College’s chosen grading policies were not equitable and inclusive to all students during this time of unprecedented crisis, and that the only solution was to move classes to CR/NC for the remainder of the semester.
“Fundamentally, college is an inequitable institution –– students come from incredibly diverse backgrounds, varying levels of prior education and vastly different home lives,” the letter read. “In participating in the ‘distance learning’ model, even the most well-equipped students have struggled to adjust.”
While the letter and its accompanying petition were met with mixed reactions from students — many of whom felt scrapping grades entirely would hinder their future career prospects or ability to get into graduate programs — both Hawks and Provost Joseph Klesner emphasized its importance in sparking a conversation that ultimately resulted in the College’s final decision.
“The petition raised really important issues about equity and access,” Hawks said. “At the same time, we also received emails from other students who were concerned that a universal CR/NC system was going to disadvantage them in some way and interfere with what they saw as equity and fair access to their classes. Those students represented a broad range of demographics: a broad range of classes, backgrounds. There was a really smart and useful discussion that students were having amongst themselves that we were let in on from time to time. All sides influenced what the faculty ultimately decided to do.”
After reading the letter, Armiya “A” Shaikh ’21 sent an email to the BSU, describing how the challenges she faced in her first few semesters at Kenyon had made it essential for her to receive grades for the semester. In this way, she said that, while she agreed with the premise of the petition — that “grades should mean nothing for the semester” — she was worried about the detrimental effects such a policy could have on her and others in similar situations.
“I definitely need my GPA this semester for grad school,” Shaikh said in an interview with the Collegian. “I was so stressed out when I first got that email.”
Additionally, the members of First Generation and Low-Income Students (FiGLI) expressed their concerns over the blanket CR/NC policy, stating that although they appreciated the petition sent out by the BSU, they felt that the universal CR/NC option would be more of a hindrance to low-income students than an advantage.
“Some students who receive financial aid from Kenyon, as well as external scholarships, must meet certain GPA requirements to maintain these sources of crucial financial support,” the email stated. “In a similar vein, many low income/first-gen students rely heavily upon the quality of their grades as a representation of their abilities, seeing as unpaid internships, connections, and a variety of other opportunities that make a competitive post-graduate are often unavailable to them.”
After an outpouring of criticism from students, the faculty concluded that a vote was necessary. At the faculty meeting on Monday, they voted against the CR/NC system and instead used the points raised by the BSU to help them determine the final policy.
“There were parallel discussions going on in the faculty around the time the BSU petition circulated,” Klesner wrote in an email to the Collegian. “It was a democratically-made decision — the proposal was made (after careful vetting by the Chair of Faculty and members of the Faculty Executive Committee to improve its language), the pros and cons were laid out by various faculty members, and we took a vote.”
Hawks agreed, saying that the debate reflected careful consideration on all sides for the multiple variables at play. Hawks lauded Thomas S. Turgeon Professor of Drama Jonathan Tazewell and Stephen Van Holde, associate professor of history, for their hard work alongside Faculty Chair and Professor of Art Marcella Hackbardt in working to draft the proposal. Hawks wrote to the Collegian that Van Holde and Tazewell were involved in discussions with other faculty all weekend.
“I do think it was a healthy debate, and resulted in the faculty coming together in this policy that dealt with the concerns about access and equity and tried to balance that against the need for students to have grades in some classes,” Hawks said. “I think in the end it was a compromised position that tried to balance a lot of competing demands in a way that was best for students.”
The new grading policy, which Hawks says is final, states that all courses where a student receives a D- or higher will be recorded as a P on their transcript. At the end of the semester, students will receive a list of their grades from the registrar, from which point they can decide whether or not to uncover the grades on their transcripts or keep them as P/F. While the registrar will not send out official progress reports on grades, Klesner says students wishing to see their grades before the end of the semester should consult professors on an individual basis.
According to a news bulletin sent out Tuesday, in classes where “a letter grade is not an appropriate system for evaluating student performance, faculty may choose to change their courses to CR/NC by petition to the Curricular Policy Committee.” Finally, non-seniors will have to notify the Office of the Registrar by April 15 of their graduating year if they wish to uncover P/F grades. This policy will also apply to off-campus study grades. Hawks also noted that the registrar will include an asterisk alongside all spring 2020 transcripts that explains how grades were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, in yearlong courses, grades from the fall semester will “convert to the grade received at the end of the course and will be recorded as P or F.” Thus, students taking year-long classes can either uncover their grades for the year, or keep both their fall letter grades and their spring grades as P/F.
The student body has generally expressed positive reactions to the new policy, which they feel better reflects the concerns of all students in their various backgrounds and circumstances.
After a meeting with FiGLI, Cortney Johnson ’21, an executive board member of the group, spoke to the Collegian over the phone.
“Overall, we appreciated the consideration that the faculty has put into reaching the current decision so far. We thought that it was pretty fair, and a lot less stigmatizing than the previous option,” Johnson said.
Teddy Hannah-Drullard ’20, a member of the BSU, agreed with Johnson. “This change will be a big relief for people, but I’m hoping faculty will still be willing to put forward extra leniency so that students who want or need grades, but who are currently faced with a severe lack of resources, can still get the grades they would have gotten on campus,” they wrote.
With these issues comes a term Johnson coined: “socially aware pedagogy.” She expressed that the members of FiGLI would like professors to be made aware of the unprecedented circumstances on an individual level and ensure that their syllabi are revised to meet the needs of all students.
“One thing that we’d like to see would be a concrete plan for regulating course policies, which we understand may require the professors to change the way that they typically do things, but we think that these difficult times require different and diverse solutions,” Johnson said. “Basically, we would just be saying that while we think that the decisions made by the faculty are great, we would like to ensure that professors are being held accountable in making their learning spaces inclusive.”
Correction:An earlier version of this article states that the deadline for seniors to change their grades is May 26. This article has been updated to reflect that that date is an optional deadline and that all students can opt-in to be considered for certain honors but can otherwise make the decision to opt-in to letter grades at any point, including after graduation. The Collegian regrets this error.
Update: This article was updated with a follow-up message from Dean Hawks regarding the work of professors Van Holde and Tazewell in drafting the new policy.