On Aug. 16, Student Council met to address the fate of the contentious spring Merit List. In a six-to-one vote, the Council proposed and subsequently approved a formal recommendation for a private Merit List. As such, on August 19, the Committee on Academic Standards (CAS) took up Student Council’s recommendation, meaning the spring Merit distinction will still appear on a student’s transcript, but the Merit List itself will not be published publicly.
The conclusion to recommend a private Merit List stems from a recent survey which gauged the student body’s opinion on the matter based in part on two opinion pieces published in the Collegian last week. According to the survey, 46 percent of the over 630 respondents disapproved of a spring Merit List, while 54 percent approved.
“I think we had to make a compromise of some sort as indicated by the poll numbers,” says Ever Croffoot-Suede ’23, Chair of the Housing and Dining Committee. “But I don’t think the compromise was an even one — I do think those that wanted a Merit List will be happier with the recommendation than those who didn’t want one.”
Croffoot-Suede is not the only individual with specific concerns regarding the spring Merit List. Arguing against the existence of a spring List entirely is Student Council Diversity and Social Justice Chair Micah Smith ’22, who, in one of the Collegian opinion articles, explained the flawed, problematic and inequitable nature of compiling and spreading such a list under pandemic circumstances. A spring Merit List “rewards those who see remote learning as nothing more than a move back home or a slight inconvenience,” argued Smith. CAS argued in opposition, reasoning that the Merit List was a necessary way to acknowledge student success amidst a pandemic.
The controversy surrounding the Merit List comes in the shadows of a renewed debate surrounding grading policy, which, much like the Merit List debate, presents opportunities for inequities. For the upcoming semester, the College has decided to revert to the traditional letter grade scale for all students, regardless of whether they are learning remotely or on campus.
In amending its grading policy, the College often “relies on recommendations made by the CAS to the administration,” explained Delaney Gallagher ’23, Student Council Vice President of Academic Affairs. In the spring, CAS recommended moving all grades to a universal yet negotiable pass/fail (P/F) basis. At this time, however, CAS has declined to make a recommendation for the fall.
The College had initially elected to keep the opt-in Pass/D/Fail (P/D/F) system for the spring semester, despite acknowledging the slew of new challenges and hardships of remote learning. However, this decision was met with immediate student pushback, as Kenyon’s Black Student Union (BSU) published a petition on March 27 calling for the adoption of a universal Credit/No Credit (CR/NC) system. As a method of compromise, Kenyon administration quickly pivoted on their grading policy stance and established the universal P/F system based on a recommendation from the CAS.
“The grading changes in Spring 2020 were put in place as an emergency measure when courses that had been designed for in-person instruction were disrupted in the middle of the semester and replaced with remote instruction planned quickly over Spring Break,” Thomas Hawks, Dean of Academic Advising and Support wrote in an email to the Collegian. “[CAS] concluded that the situation was different this semester, with classes designed from the beginning to be delivered remotely or in a hybrid format, allowing both students and faculty time to prepare for online learning.”
Despite the compromises, with half of the student body at home and the other on campus, the College may face an entirely new set of challenges in equal opportunity and accessibility this fall. Finding the most equitable grading system is sure to be one of them.
“As far as future changes, grading policy is determined by the faculty, so the faculty could pass a new grading policy without a proposal from CAS,” explained Hawks. “As the semester develops, I believe the faculty will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the equity and fairness of Kenyon’s grading policies.”