Vice Provost for Education Beth Winkelstein said at a Council of Undergraduate Deans meeting Wednesday afternoon that the University will consider pushing back the deadline to opt in to pass/fail grading, but did not disclose a timeframe for announcing a decision.
Penn announced on March 20 that students will have until April 13 to opt into pass/fail grading for all courses, including those that satisfy major or general education requirements. Penn has the earliest opt-in deadline in the Ivy League by more than two weeks — which has prompted significant student criticism and petitions for a later deadline or a mandatory pass/fail grading system.
Cornell University and Princeton University have opt-in pass/fail deadlines in May that fall right before each school's finals period. Harvard University, Yale University, Columbia University, and Dartmouth College have made pass/fail grading mandatory for all students.
The administration's decision comes after a student-led online petition demanding that Penn extend its opt-in pass/fail deadline to the end of the semester garnered significant support, with nearly 3,500 signatures at the time of publication.
Present at Wednesday's virtual meeting along with Winkelstein were the four undergraduate deans and representatives from the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education and the Undergraduate Assembly.
College junior and SCUE Chair External Carson Eckhard, who attended the meeting, said both SCUE and the UA presented reports to administrators that showed student support for extending the pass/fail deadline based on online surveys. SCUE and the UA conducted separate surveys, with the UA providing a public report based on its data and SCUE presenting its report to only administrators.
According to the UA's survey of about 994, moving the opt-in pass/fail deadline back was among students' top academic concerns. Eckhard said SCUE's survey is still in circulation, but about 1900 students have filled it out so far. According to Eckhard, a "strong majority" of those surveyed support extending the deadline. She added that last week, even before this formal meeting, administrators told SCUE that they were not discussing moving the deadline.
“We're hoping that there will be some kind of resolution in the next few days because the deadline is coming up so fast,” Eckhard said.
College junior Finnegan Biden created the popular online petition last week to encourage Penn to push their deadline to opt-in to pass/fail grading until after finals. Biden believes Penn's short timeframe for making decisions about pass/fail is unfair and will harm the most vulnerable students during the pandemic. Biden said she is glad so many students were able to mobilize despite physical distance.
"A petition is the easiest way for us to organize in quarantine," she said. "It made me happy more than anything to see how we can still connect with one another and be united in something – especially for a good cause."
Biden also referenced Penn Law's decision to adopt mandatory credit/fail grading for the spring semester. In an email to law students, Penn Law Dean Ruger explained that the school's faculty did not think the undergraduate opt-in system was the best option available, because it would increase students' stress about repercussions from potential employers.
"Requiring a student to choose before receiving a grade would increase stress in an already stressful situation," the email read. "Many employers with whom we spoke confirmed this objection, reporting that under an optional system, they might draw a negative inference from a student’s decision to exercise a Credit/Fail option when a graded choice was available."
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