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The eight Ivy League universities have implemented different grading policies regarding pass/fail.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Penn has adopted an optional pass/fail grading system for the spring semester in light of the coronavirus outbreak — but the grading policies among the Ivy League universities vary.

Four Ivy League schools — Harvard University, Yale University, Columbia University, and Dartmouth College — have adopted a form of mandatory pass/fail grading, while the other four schools have implemented an opt-in system like Penn's.

Other peer institutions like Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University have also adopted a mandatory pass/fail grading scale.

Here's how all eight Ivy League universities have altered their grading policies.

University of Pennsylvania

On March 20, Provost Wendell Pritchett emailed Penn undergraduates announcing that students would be able to opt in to pass/fail grading for any class — including those satisfying major or general education requirements — by April 13. 

The previous deadline to opt in to pass/fail grading was March 27. Courses taken pass/fail this semester will still be eligible to count for major or general education requirements and will not count toward the limit imposed by a student's undergraduate school.

Some students praised the policy for its flexibility, but others criticized the deadline to opt in, deeming it too early. Of the Ivy League universities, Penn has the earliest deadline to opt in to pass/fail grading by a margin of more than two weeks.

Credit: Ava Cruz


Credit: Ava Cruz

Harvard University

On March 28, Harvard announced that all courses will be graded on a universal satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading scale, the Harvard Crimson reported. A satisfactory grade at Harvard is a C-minus or higher. 

Instead of a letter grade, undergraduate students will receive either an “Emergency Satisfactory” or “Emergency Unsatisfactory" grade. Faculty have the opportunity to provide other qualitative feedback online, the Crimson reported.

This decision reversed Faculty of Arts and Sciences Registrar Michael Burke’s March 12 announcement extending the deadline to drop courses or switch to satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading to April 13, according to the Crimson.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay wrote in an email to Harvard students that the decision was influenced by concerns beyond academic equity, the Crimson reported. Among these concerns were that graduate programs — such as Harvard Medical School — would only accept satisfactory/unsatisfactory grades from students whose universities instituted mandatory policies.

Yale University

Yale adopted a mandatory pass/fail policy on April 7, becoming the fourth Ivy League school to do so. 

Yale College Dean Marvin Chun announced the policy change in an email to Yale students and faculty, clarifying that it will be the University's final grading policy alteration in light of the coronavirus outbreak. Chun wrote that it should be "extremely rare" for students to receive a failing grade on their transcript because students are able to withdraw from courses until the last day of finals.

The update followed both faculty and students expressing support for a mandatory system. A faculty poll indicated that 55% of Yale faculty supported mandatory pass/fail, while a survey conducted by Yale's undergraduate student governing body, the Yale College Council, found 68% of undergraduates expressed support for a "universal pass" grading policy.

The decision overrode Chun's previous announcement that students will be able to take an unlimited number of courses on a Credit/D/Fail system. Yale students would have had until May 6 at 5 p.m., the last day of finals, to opt in to Credit/D/Fail grading.

Princeton University

Princeton students will have the option to switch any course — including courses that fulfill requirements — to Pass/D/Fail grading until May 12, College Dean Jill Dolan announced on March 27. 

Faculty will also have the opportunity to make their courses graded on a Pass/D/Fail-only basis, the Daily Princetonian reported.

Prior to Dolan's announcement, Princeton administration had already lifted the semesterly cap on Pass/D/Fail courses for students, urged faculty to consider Pass/D/Fail-only grading, and pushed back the grade change deadline to May 1. 

Dean of the College Jill Dolan clarified that the current policy is their final decision for Spring 2020, the Daily Princetonian reported.

Columbia University 

According to the Columbia Daily Spectator, Columbia has adopted pass/fail grading with no opportunity to opt-out of the policy. 

This switch was made on March 20 — making Columbia the first in the Ivy League to adopt universal pass/fail grading. Pass/fail courses will count towards major, concentration, and graduation requirements. 

Columbia President Lee Bollinger explained the decision as an acknowledgment of the scale of the coronavirus crisis, not a reduction in expectations, the Columbia Daily Spectator reported.

Dartmouth College

All Dartmouth courses will be graded on a credit/no-credit grading scale, The Dartmouth reported. In lieu of a letter grade, students will either receive a “CT” on their transcript or an “NC.”

Credit/no-credit courses will count toward major and general education requirements, The Dartmouth reported.

Provost Joseph Helble said the policy is meant to support students facing challenges such as inconvenient timezones, caring for family members, and limited access to the internet, according to The Dartmouth. 

The Dartmouth reported that the College's physical education and swim test requirements will be waived for students graduating this semester.

Cornell University

Cornell is allowing students to opt-in to pass/fail grading until May 12. On April 5, Cornell extended the deadline from the previous date of April 21. In order to receive a passing grade, students must achieve a C-minus or higher. 

Provost Michael Kotlikoff wrote in an email to faculty that there will be flexibility on how pass/fail courses will count toward academic requirements, the Cornell Sun reported.

Brown University

Brown students will be able to change their courses to satisfactory/no credit grading until May 1, an extension from the previous deadline of April 17. In cases where instructors deem it infeasible to assign letter grades, instructors may petition to convert their class to a mandatory satisfactory/no credit grading scale.

Dean of the College Rashid Zia cited Brown’s emphasis on individualized education in making the decision. Brown already has no breadth requirements or failing grades, and almost all courses can be taken satisfactory/no credit. 

This is a developing story that was last updated on April 7 at 4:15 p.m. Please check back here for updates.

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