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Credit: Isabel Liang

As more elite institutions announce a mandatory pass/fail grading policy for students, Penn's administration says it has no plans to change the current opt-in pass/fail policy, as the policy grants students the opportunity to earn letter grades for their GPA and graduate schools.

On March 20, Provost Wendell Pritchett announced in an email to undergraduate students that they could choose to take any course pass/fail by April 13. The opt-in policy allows pass/fail classes to fulfill major and general education requirements. The announcement came after more than 2,000 students signed a petition calling for a pass/fail option as all classes moved online

Despite the movement of other schools to a universal pass/fail grading system, the University currently has no plan to do so.

Peer institutions including Harvard University, Stanford University, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have established policies that make all classes graded on a pass/fail, pass/no credit, or satisfactory/no credit basis.

“The expanded pass/fail option this term gives all students the ability to decide what works best for them, course by course, based on actual experience with remote learning in their living environment and does not slow progress to degree for those who opt to take courses pass/fail,” University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “There is no plan to modify the pass/fail options any further this term.”

Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Steven Fluharty sent an email to School of Arts and Sciences faculty on March 24 addressing a petition signed by some faculty members calling for a mandatory pass/fail policy this semester.

“There is presently no plan to substitute a mandatory P/F policy for the opt-in policy announced by the Provost on March 20," Fluharty wrote.

The email read that first-generation, low-income students had expressed concern to the University about not receiving letter grades this semester. Fluharty wrote that students applying to professional and graduate schools may be at a disadvantage if they do not receive a letter grade.

"While it is not clear how institutions that rely on these credentials are going to amend their requirements and policies in light of what has happened this spring, unless every undergraduate institution goes P/F the lack of some letter grades may well disadvantage some of our students," Fluharty wrote.

Merriam Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Undergraduate Chemistry Department Jeffrey Winkler said some chemistry faculty are advocating for a mandatory pass/fail policy. 

Some medical schools such as Harvard Medical School will only accept pre-med requisites taken pass/fail if the University grading policy is mandatory. Under an optional pass/fail policy, students who plan to apply to medical schools with this condition cannot pass/fail pre-med requisites, such as CHEM 101 General Chemistry I, CHEM 102 General Chemistry II, CHEM 241 Principles of Organic Chemistry, and CHEM 242 Principles of Organic Chemistry II.

“At the end of the day, we defer to the policy of the administration,” Winkler said.

The Undergraduate Assembly posted a survey on social media last week to gather student feedback on potential pass/fail policies, including universal pass/fail, universal pass/no credit, opt-out pass/fail, and Double A for which students receive either an A or A-. 

After Pritchett announced the opt-in pass/fail system, some students praised the flexibility of the policy, although some wished the University gave students until later in the semester to opt in. Students must opt in to pass/fail grading by April 13. Some students, however, expressed concerns that an opt-in policy would disadvantage students in home environments not conducive to online learning.

Penn Law School faculty voted earlier this week to implement a mandatory Credit/Fail policy for spring 2020. A notation will be added to students’ transcripts explaining the mandatory policy for the semester.

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