Scripps switches to default pass/no record grading, keeps letter grade option

Mabel Lui Scripps 3
Scripps faculty voted to switch to pass/no record grading by default, but students can still opt for a letter grade. (Mabel Lui • The Student Life)

Scripps College faculty voted Thursday to adopt a default pass/no record grading policy that retains the option for letter grades, departing from Pomona College’s and Pitzer College’s recent decisions to forgo letter grades for the spring 2020 semester, a faculty member present at the vote told TSL.

Under the new policy, professors will award students either a “pass” or “no record pandemic” grade, unless a student requests a letter grade in the course. “No record pandemic” grades will not appear on final transcripts. 

Students have until May 26 to request letter grades, four days after grades are released on May 22. Under the policy, which was proposed by the school’s Faculty Executive Committee, passing grades count for major, minor and general education requirements. 

Thursday’s vote is a slight revision to Scripps’ initial COVID-19 grading policy, under which students were assigned default letter grades and had the option to choose a pass/fail grade until May 6. The faculty decided to revote after pressure mounted in the last few weeks from student activists in favor of a universal grading policy, but in the end declined to adopt a universal system.

During the meeting, three other grading policies proposed by Scripps faculty were rejected, according to the faculty member present. Two of the alternatives — including universal A and universal pass models — would have eliminated letter grades entirely. An additional motion regarding a moratorium on issuing academic probations and suspensions also passed. 

The final decision comes just two weeks before the end of the semester.

Although advocacy for a universal A policy had been gaining traction among students and professors, an email sent to faculty Tuesday by President Lara Tiedens and Dean of Faculty Amy Marcus-Newhall warned that if universal A passed, the administrators would call upon the school’s board of trustees to veto the change.

“We cannot support or allow for the universal A,” Tiedens and Marcus-Newhall wrote, saying the policy would amount to “misrepresentation and deceit.” 

The student group Nobody Fails at Scripps led the advocacy for an updated grading policy. It endorsed universal pass/incomplete/no record pandemic but said it would “generally be okay” with any universal policy, Uma Nagarajan SC ’22 told TSL via message before the vote.

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

After the vote, Nobody Fails at Scripps organizers expressed frustration with the policy. In a public statement they stressed that they would not disband, but rather continue “to be a force at Scripps College for many years to come.”

“We’re deeply angry and disappointed with the decision faculty just made to continue opt-in grading. We expected better as students and members of a community which claims to care for us,” organizers said immediately following the decision via Instagram post. 

Scripps Associated Students circulated a survey April 6 to gauge support for various grading policies, which 66.2 percent of students completed. 

It showed that the most popular policy among Scripps students at the time was “universal grade inflation,” with 43.6 percent of respondents favoring this policy. Twenty-seven percent supported “universal pass,” 18.2 percent supported “default pass/NC with option to opt-in to letter grade” and 11.2 percent favored Scripps’ policy at the time — default letter grades with the option to choose pass/fail.

Outgoing Scripps Associated Students president Niyati Narang SC ’20 and president-elect Safia Hassan SC ’21 expressed disappointment with the grading decision. 

“We are deeply disappointed in the Scripps faculty who voted against a Universal Pass. They demonstrated with this vote that their values do not extend past the classroom,” they told TSL via message. “However, we are thankful for the faculty who supported the efforts for a universal pass. We are incredibly inspired by the students who stood up for one another and advocated for a more equitable policy.”

Pitzer College’s new grading policy, passed yesterday, comes close to universal A. Under the new system, students will receive pass/no record grades, but each passed class will be equivalent to an A or 4.0 for students’ grade point averages. 

Pitzer’s policy appears to be the first emergency grading system adopted by an undergraduate institution in the country that grants students the equivalent of As in all passed classes. 

Harvey Mudd College and Claremont McKenna College have similar policies to the one passed by Scripps on Thursday, but letter grades are the default.

This article was last updated May 1 at 7:51 a.m.



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