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Students commended Penn Law's transparency when deciding to implement a mandatory Credit/Fail grading policy for spring 2020.

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Penn Law students praised the school for implementing a mandatory Credit/Fail grading policy for spring 2020 in response to classes moving online due to coronavirus.

Students commended the school's transparency in the decision-making process and thanked the school for listening to student opinion before making a final decision. Penn Law Dean Ted Ruger wrote in an email to law students on March 25 that the law school solicited feedback from over 480 students through a survey before reaching its final decision. Penn Law also spoke with employers in the legal field, who agreed that a mandatory Credit/Fail system was appropriate in light of the current circumstances.

Penn Law faculty voted unanimously in favor of the new policy, which will apply to all full-semester courses,  Ruger wrote in the March 25 email. The school decided to adopt this grading system based on “profound disruption for many or most of our students” due to the coronavirus pandemic, the email read.

Third-year Penn Law student Vivek Kembaiyan said that he supported the mandatory Credit/Fail grading policy and appreciated that administration and faculty considered student feedback. He said the decision is particularly important for students who are negatively affected by the pandemic.

“So many students have either been displaced themselves or are concerned about family members’ health or family members losing jobs,” Kembaiyan said. “I think this decision is a recognition of how disruptive this has been and I really appreciate that the faculty were clearly thinking about the students that are most negatively impacted.”

Kembaiyan said that most Penn Law students he has talked to have agreed that the school made the “right decision.”

Third-year Penn Law student BJ Courville said she was surprised that Penn Law decided to implement the mandatory Credit/Fail system, because grades are greatly emphasized at law schools. As a first-generation, low-income student, she said she supports the decision and thinks the University should keep making FGLI students and students with disabilities its highest priority during this uncertain time.

“It should be incumbent upon the University as a whole to remember that they made a commitment to those students whenever they put us in the brochures,” Courville said. “Moving forward, they really need to prioritize those students in all of their decisions and make sure that those students are supported and that they have what they need to stay healthy and to stay alive in the Philadelphia area.”

In the March 25 email, Ruger wrote that the school also considered other grading policies such as the current letter grade system, an “Honors/Credit/Fail” system, and an optional Credit/Fail system, which has been implemented by Penn’s four undergraduate schools.

Kembaiyan said that he hopes the undergraduate schools will follow in the footsteps of Penn Law and switch to a mandatory pass/fail system. He said undergraduate students have also experienced extreme disruption, as the University forced most students out of their on-campus housing by March 17 and moved all classes online beginning March 23.

“All the things that Dean Ruger outlined in his email about how [the coronavirus pandemic] is affecting law students are just as relevant, if not more relevant, to undergraduates who have literally been kicked out of their homes,” Kembaiyan said.

In November 2019, the Penn Law administration received extensive backlash from students, faculty, and alumni for changing the name of the school to the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School following a $125 million donation from W.P. Carey Foundation. 

Students criticized the lack of transparency in the renaming process and the fact that the University agreed to name an academic institution after a corporation. The school then changed its short-form name from "Carey Law" back to "Penn Law" after a petition recorded more than 3,000 signatures from law students and alumni.

Third-year Penn Law student Kristen Dewilde said that, in contrast to how the administration dealt with the name change, the school handled the change of grading policy much better by being more transparent and involving the student body before making its decision.

“I think that the way that they handled this was the way that they would ideally handle every situation that comes up that involves the student body,” Dewilde said. “For the faculty to be unanimous in this really does mean a lot, and I think it shows that they were listening to what a majority of the students were saying they needed at a time like this.”

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