Pomona faculty to vote on universal pass/no record grading proposal without letter grade option

carnegie hall at pomona college
Pomona College’s faculty will vote on a proposal to suspend letter grading for the rest of the semester. (Courtesy of Pomona College)

Pomona College faculty will vote Wednesday on a motion to grade students on a universal pass/no record basis for the spring 2020 semester, ASPC officials said in an email to students Monday. 

Under the motion, proposed by the Faculty Executive Committee, professors will have the option to assign students a grade of pass, “no record pandemic” or incomplete. The motion also calls for Pomona transcripts to bear the following notation: “Covid-19: Enrollment & grades reflect disruption of Spring 2020.” 

The proposal differs from a typical pass/no credit system in that courses in which students earn a failing grade will not appear on their transcripts.

“The assignment of NRP [no record pandemic] will strike the class from the student’s academic transcript and no credit will be assigned for the class,” the motion reads

The motion also provides that pass grades this semester will count for major, minor and senior exercise requirements.

If the motion passes, Pomona will become the first 5C to end all letter grading for the semester in response to coronavirus concerns. All classes at the colleges moved online March 30. 

Harvey Mudd College and Scripps College are allowing students to opt in to take individual classes pass/no credit or pass/fail, respectively, while Pitzer College made P/NC the default and allows students to opt out. Claremont McKenna College has not yet announced a finalized grading system for the semester. 

The motion at Pomona asks faculty to “exercise the highest degree of flexibility and compassion regarding student learning and expectations,” ASPC Vice President of Academic Affairs Isaac Cui PO ’20, President Miguel Delgado-Garcia PO ’20 and Commissioner of Community Relations Alfredo Reyes-Guzman PO ’20 told students.

Compared to other potential grading policies, the faculty proposal is not popular among students. In a survey conducted by student group 5C Students for Grade Equity, Pomona students supported a universal pass/fail policy the least out of six options given — the option most similar to the universal pass/no record system proposed in the motion. Forty-one percent of Pomona students responded to the survey.

A B+ grade floor, grade inflation and universal pass or pass/fail proposals with letter grade options were all at least 17 percentage points or more popular, and a universal pass proposal gained 50.1 percent support.

ASPC Senate voted April 5 to recommend a universal A/A- grading policy, along with other options relating to a universal pass system. Although the faculty motion doesn’t endorse any of these proposals, the ASPC officials lauded the degree to which faculty included student input in the process to develop a new grading protocol.

“We are disappointed that our top choice wasn’t proposed,” they said. “But we feel proud of this process, one where faculty did listen to student input.” 

A straw poll conducted at a faculty meeting Friday found 59 percent of those who voted preferred a universal system, compared to 36 percent who wanted students to be able to opt for an alternative system.

An ASPC report released on April 6 explained that a universal grading policy could help address concerns about students whose abilities to succeed in classes have been hampered.

“The pandemic, with its wildly inconsistent effects on people, stacks the deck in favor of those who are already privileged — those who could return to a safe, nurturing environment with the resources necessary for academic success,” it said. “Thus, as one student explained in an email to ASPC, ‘the ability to be in a situation where one would want to choose a letter grade is a privilege’ — a privilege, moreover, that inheres in those who ‘have the resources, time, and space to focus on their studies,’ and not ‘FLI [first-generation and low-income], international, and other marginalized students.’” 

Professors at the faculty meeting were split whether to include the ability not to pass students: 50 percent asked that the new system allow non-passing grades, while 45 percent preferred that all students pass every class.

Grading in the consortium will follow students’ home institutions’ policies, Scripps and HMC officials said when announcing their updated grading policies. That means that Pomona students taking courses at other 5Cs won’t have the option to receive letter grades, even if the college where they’re taking the course allows them.

This article was updated on April 13 at 5:30 p.m. to clarify the difference between “no credit” and “no record.”

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