Dear Kenyon students and faculty,
On Monday, March 23, the College’s faculty voted to extend the Pass/D/Fail deadline to Friday, May 1 due to new policy addressing COVID-19. We would like to thank the faculty who have already expressed their concerns for their students about the existing grading policy. Since this decision directly impacts students and was made without students in the room, we ask that our own concerns for the policy are not only heard, but taken into strong consideration. The undersigned believe that while this is a step in the right direction, the College’s faculty and administration must reconsider their decision and change it to a universal Credit/No Credit option. According to the course catalog, “Courses are designated as CR/NC when letter grades are not an appropriate system for evaluating student performance.” The undersigned deem the present as a situation where grades are not fit to evaluate student performance.
First, we would like to highlight that this is not an unprecedented request. Harvard, Dartmouth, Duke, MIT, Wellesley College, Columbia University and many comparable institutions across the country have already implemented similar changes for their spring semester.
We choose to advocate for a universal Credit/No Credit option over universal Pass/D/Fail because we believe Pass/D/Fail will not ensure enough protection during this strenuous time for Kenyon students. While a universal Pass/D/Fail system does not affect a student’s overall GPA, a grade of a D+, D, D-,or F is still recorded on a student’s transcript. In a universal Credit/No Credit option, no grades from the semester would appear on a student’s transcript or affect their GPA.
Fundamentally, college is an inequitable institution –– students come from incredibly diverse backgrounds, varying levels of prior education and vastly different home lives. In participating in the ‘distance learning’ model, even the most well-equipped students have struggled to adjust. Other students have returned to the environments that may have made their experiences before Kenyon more difficult; some of us do not even have access to the basic resources offered on campus, such as reliable internet or a quiet space for concentrated study. Thus, by keeping the current grade system in place, Kenyon harms everyone and disproportionately harms the students that have already been negatively affected by adversity and inequity. Our physical campus acts as a center of resources; now that our student body is dispersed, it is only right to honor these changes to the best of our abilities by switching to the Credit/No Credit model.
We understand the arguments for keeping grades and putting them on transcripts. Scholarship eligibility, cum laude, summer employment, senior employment after Kenyon, and graduate school opportunities all loom in the future. In addition, there are people on conditional enrollment who need these grades to continue their education at Kenyon. While these situations are real, the traditional letter grade system has become insufficient in the evaluation of a student’s academic performance in light of these new non-traditional circumstances. A letter grade now serves as a reflection of other factors, such as access to various resources and the stability of one’s home environment. Something as simple as an asterisk on the spring semester grades could remind anyone as to why the College shifted to Credit/No Credit for this particular semester. It is important for Kenyon College to join other institutions in the implementation of a universal system to ensure a level playing field across institutions when it comes to considering important next steps for our students such as graduate school and future employment, as well as within our own institution. To address the issue of the GPAs of students on conditional enrollment or scholarships, we ask that, along with its implementation of a universal Credit/No Credit model, Kenyon College adequately supports these students by granting them a semester of amnesty.
In addition, the system currently in place provides greater flexibility in students’ decisions to individually designate classes as Pass/D/Fail. This is not good enough. Allowing students the option to keep letter grades cheapens the Pass/D/Fail option; letter grades may be used as an instrument to signal to future employers or graduate programs that a student was able to successfully weather the challenges of this semester while other students will not have the opportunity of keeping letter grades due to the reality of our dire situations. Choosing Pass/D/Fail for a course would be “quietly but powerfully stigmatized, but it would also be the choice most necessary for those most impacted,” as quoted in the Harvard Crimson’s editorial “The Necessity of Universal Pass-Fail.” An important issue to address in the College’s current grading policy is the lack of consistency throughout all departments. While some departments are following this opt-in system, others are not. This lack of an overarching standard across the departments is yet another reason to mandate a stricter universal Credit/No Credit option.
It is important to fully recognize that any grading system at this time is obsolete. We cannot downplay the severity of this situation. Doing so is a willful ignorance that harms everyone by reinforcing inequities. Some of us have already been forced to pick up jobs, assist immunocompromised relatives, take on vastly different roles in our household, are on the other side of the world or have even been potentially exposed to COVID-19 ourselves. We see the universal Credit/No Credit option as the most feasible to protect as many students as possible from any circumstances, anticipated or not. Regardless of whether or not you believe you are currently being affected by this decision or the greater global pandemic, it is important to remember that there are members in our community that would greatly benefit from this decision. In addition, you may be unaffected right now, but that does not guarantee that you will not be affected in the future while school is still in session.
We encourage the entire Kenyon community to take this time as an opportunity to practice empathy towards everyone affected by this unfortunate situation; adjusting the grading system is merely one important step in aiding those students and faculty most affected by this outbreak. We must strive to do all we can to protect as many people in the Kenyon community as possible.
The link to the petition can be found here.
The Black Student Union at Kenyon College