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Penn Law School will adopt a mandatory credit/fail grading policy for the spring 2020 semester due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Credit: Chase Sutton

Penn Law School faculty voted unanimously today to implement a mandatory Credit/Fail grading policy for spring 2020.

Penn Law Dean Ted Ruger announced in an email to Penn law students on Wednesday that the new grading system will apply to all law students and full-semester classes. A notation will be added to students’ transcripts explaining the mandatory policy for the semester, the email read.

Grading for partial-semester and full-year courses will remain under the ordinary grading system for this semester. Grading for full-year courses next semester will be left to the discretion of individual professors for fall 2020, Ruger wrote.

"This was a difficult choice among many imperfect options, and we recognize that it will offer great relief to some and will be disappointing to others," Ruger wrote. "However, this consensus decision reflects our uncertain and rapidly changing environment and the need to protect those disproportionately impacted by the current global pandemic."

Ruger wrote that the Penn Law faculty Educational Programs Committee decided to implement a mandatory Credit/Fail policy based on the “profound disruption for many or most of our students” due to the coronavirus pandemic. The committee solicited and considered feedback from students, faculty, and staff before making its final decision, Ruger wrote.

According to Ruger's email, the school has spoken with a variety of employers in the legal field, and they uniformly understand that traditional grading is not appropriate at this time. Employers have also said that an optional Credit/Fail system would draw "negative inferences" from a student's decision to receive credit over a grade.

"Requiring a student to choose before receiving a grade would increase stress in an already stressful situation, and a system that permits post-exam choice would make students rightly concerned that opting against a letter grade would signal that they fared poorly," Ruger wrote.

Ruger wrote that the committee considered many grading options before voting on the mandatory Credit/Fail system. Some of these options included the current letter grade system, an “Honors/Credit/Fail” system, and an optional Credit/Fail for all courses which has been implemented by all four undergraduate schools. 

Other law schools have implemented a similar mandatory pass/fail grading policy, including Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School, and Columbia Law School, Bloomberg News reported.