The Committee on Academic Standards (CAS) recognizes the unique and disruptive situation the novel coronavirus has put students in. We realize that the Merit List, in this particular circumstance, will not be fair to all students. However, we still believe that, despite the drawbacks, there are still positive aspects to recognizing students’ academic success. The Merit List should be published for spring 2020 in order to recognize students who persevered and succeeded in the face of unique challenges presented by the pandemic.
While CAS understands that each student left Kenyon to go home to different situations, there should still be an effort to celebrate those who were able to do well despite the circumstances, just as other colleges of the same caliber, such as Wesleyan University and Grinnell College, have. According to Dean of Academic Advising and Support Thomas Hawks, over the previous four semesters, the average number of students on the Merit List is 873. As of July 14, 767 students qualified for the spring 2020 list — only a 12-percent drop.
Furthermore, the Merit List only validates academic achievements for students and their families. Just as there is no harm in not having a Merit List, there is no harm in having one, either. Graduate programs, competitive internships and everybody in the world knows that spring 2020 was the onset of the pandemic and an entire upheaval of traditional educational practices. So why not keep the Merit List, as recognition of these conditions yield no repercussions and it can still appreciate the great academic achievements of students? While many students take pride in their grades privately, the Merit List is an additional recognition from the College itself of academic success. Students have already been notified of their grades, and those interested would have already calculated their status for the Merit List, so taking this achievement away from them now would be a punishment.
While it is true that taking online classes was and still will be a difficult transition, how would getting rid of the Merit List for only the spring 2020 semester allow for equitable recognition of academic achievement? It wouldn’t. There would be no acknowledgement of hard work for students who still persevered through college during the pandemic. Furthermore, does this now mean that the Merit Lists for fall 2020 and spring 2021 will not exist? How could the College justify taking away the Merit List for only one semester of online learning, when the entire 2020-2021 academic year is online for half of the students? All of the academic achievements that students and graduate programs value — such as class rank, honors and departmental awards — would have to be reevaluated if the methods of qualifying students’ grades are brought into question.
Even though many students had to and continue to have possibly unsafe and/or unstable circumstances in their lives due to the pandemic, CAS sincerely hopes that students who excelled academically can still be recognized. Our goal is to acknowledge the successes of Kenyon students in the time of a pandemic. We in no way want to undermine or discredit the challenges that remote learning posed for many students, but, rather, we hope to give those who met the Merit List requirements an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments. Hopefully in the future a fairer way of celebrating students in times of unique learning circumstances can be determined. But for now, the spring 2020 Merit List should continue to exist to recognize and support the successes of Kenyon students.
This opinion is one of two regarding the existence of a spring 2020 Merit List, which is currently being debated by Student Council. The Council will place great weight on the results of a student-wide poll in making this determination. These two pieces were designed to help students make an informed decision prior to voting in the poll, which they can find here.