Scripps admin would ask trustees to veto universal A policy if passed, president warns

A courtyard surrounded by white archways on two sides.
Scripps administrators would ask the Board of Trustees to overrule a universal A policy if the faculty passes it Thursday. (Austin Huang • The Student Life)

Scripps’ faculty is set to vote Thursday on a slew of possible changes to the school’s spring 2020 grading policy, including a proposed universal A policy. 

However, Scripps College President Lara Tiedens and Dean of Faculty Amy Marcus-Newhall warned faculty Tuesday that if the universal A policy was passed, the administrators would ask the school’s board of trustees to block the change.

In early April, the school implemented a new grading policy allowing students to opt into a pass/fail grade in any class until May 6, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But after weeks of student organizing in favor of a universal policy and Pomona College’s move to a universal pass/no record system, Scripps faculty are now taking a second look.

At the Thursday faculty meeting, faculty will consider several alternatives, several Scripps professors confirmed. Under the “universal A” proposal, all students would receive an A on their final transcripts, regardless of performance.

But Tiedens and Marcus-Newhall cautioned in an email obtained by TSL that they “cannot support or allow for the universal A option,” which they view as “fundamentally dishonest,” and would ask the school’s Board of Trustees to overrule the policy if it passes Thursday.

They explained that letter grades are “the most widely used grading system in this country” and imply that, if assigned, they are based on the faculty’s evaluation of students’ performance in their courses.

“If we use a letter grade to represent achievement without having met those two conditions, then we are engaging in misrepresentation and deceit,” the email said. 

They went on to note that a universal A policy would obligate all faculty, including those who voted against the policy and faculty at other Claremont Colleges teaching Scripps students “to participate in this deception.”

If the universal A motion passes, the administrators said they would take the rare step of bringing the policy to the Board of Trustees and recommending that the Board reverse the faculty’s decision.

“This is not an outcome we would like to see occur,” they said, noting that the Board has recently sought to keep out of operational matters at the college, especially academics. “Yet, we see the universal A as such a breach of academic integrity that we will take this course if needed,” they continued.

Tiedens and Marcus-Newhall said that they would not raise objections to any of the other motions which will be considered at Thursday’s meeting, and that, if passed, the college would abide by them.

The Scripps Faculty Executive Committee’s proposal would implement pass/no record grading as the default, but leave students the option to receive letter grades before May 26. “No record” grades would be removed from student transcripts. 

Another motion under consideration sets out the same conditions as the FEC motion, but stipulates that all final letter grades must be either equivalent to or higher than the students’ grade as of March 13 — the last official day of in-person classes.

A “universal pass” proposal granting a pass to any student who receives a C or higher — with no option for a letter grade — is also under consideration. The motion does not specify what grade would be granted to students who receive lower than a C.

Under all of the motions, passing grades would fulfill all major, minor and general education requirements for the semester.

An additional motion called for a moratorium on academic probation, dismissal and suspension for the spring 2020 semester. 

Tiedens and Marcus-Newhall cautioned that, if the trustees step in to overturn the universal A policy, they will “feel compelled to choose a different system on [the faculty’s] behalf.”

Scripps’ current grading policy has met significant student criticism. 

“I think opt-in is incredibly dismissive of the fact that so many people are in survival mode,” Laila Kent SC ’22 told TSL via message earlier this month. “It is the most lukewarm response the administration could have.”

Student organizers, under the name “Nobody Fails at Scripps,” began advocating earlier this month for what they say would be a more equitable grading policy, and have garnered a significant social media following in the process. 

The group is currently advocating for a pass/no record pandemic/incomplete policy, but would “generally be okay” with any universal policy, Uma Nagarajan SC ’22 told TSL via message. 

“After doing extensive research and conversations with faculty and students, we feel that this is the most realistic and equitable policy that addresses most student concerns,” Nagarajan said. 

The group previously advocated for a universal pass policy, among others, which would give every student at Scripps a “pass” on their transcript, with no option for failing or for letter grades, according to a previous version of a living document outlining the group’s goals.

Outgoing Scripps Associated Students president Niyati Narang SC ’20 and president-elect Safia Hassan SC ’21 did not endorse any specific motion in a message to TSL.

“We are hopeful that the faculty will select a policy that is best for the student body at large,” they said. “We are [confident] that after hearing from many students and reading student testimonials, the Scripps faculty will choose a policy that fits the gravity of this moment.”

Nobody Fails at Scripps has sparked similar movements at Claremont McKenna College and Pitzer College, where students have been advocating under the names “Nobody Fails at CMCand “Nobody Fails at Pitzer.” Pitzer faculty are re-voting Wednesday afternoon on a universal A proposal.

Allison Fitz, Aaron Gonzalez and Lily Ross contributed reporting.

This article was last updated April 29 at 1:04 a.m.

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