April 3, 2020
By the end of next Tuesday, I will be writing to you to announce whether or not Yale College will adopt a universal pass/fail option that would supplant the accommodations I announced on March 20. A universal pass/fail option, as many of you know, would eliminate letter grades for all students, whether or not they wanted them, and instead offer a binary pass or fail grade (with the option to withdraw). I send you this interim notice to recognize the urgency in announcing a final decision and to bring you up to date on the few final steps in reaching one.
Over the past two weeks, I have been studying the suggestions that you and the faculty have sent to me about this semester's grading policy, with many of you advocating for a universal pass/fail option, and others advocating that Yale College preserve the accommodations I announced on March 20. Almost a thousand of you have written to me directly, and over 4,500 of you have communicated your views by responding to a survey conducted by the YCC, whose report you can find here. We have also polled the faculty, not only on its views on grading policies but also on its experiences with distance learning. To help in this decision-making, I have asked the Committee on Teaching and Learning, which includes students, to work with me in synthesizing and interpreting the data from all sources, including the YCC's survey. And yesterday, I asked the YCC and the Committee on Teaching and Learning to attend the Yale College Faculty Meeting and present their findings so that those in attendance could have a full account of the community's views. You can find the committee's report here.
A majority of you favor a universal pass/fail option – also endorsed by the Yale College Council and other student organizations – as a necessary response to this unprecedented time of global health threat and financial disruption. Many of you have increased responsibilities at home, one in three of you is caring for someone who has fallen ill, and one in four of you is facing financial insecurity. Only one in six of you reports facing no challenges with time zone differences, family relationships, internet access, mental health, or the search for employment.
Faculty views trended in the opposite direction. An initial survey indicated that compared to faculty who favored a universal pass/fail policy, more faculty supported our current measures as both sufficient and appropriate for providing maximum flexibility for both faculty and students. Many of you have written to me expressing the same preference, even if you have cited the challenges that have led many students to support universal pass/fail, saying that you want the flexibility to receive a letter grade for your work, much of it done before midterm, as you work toward reaching your academic goals. In many cases, those include external scholarships, internships, and post-graduation plans. And many of you report being uneasy with a single policy that applies broadly to everyone, preventing you from seeking accommodations that suit your unique situation, and eliminating choice.
We discussed these issues at a Yale College faculty meeting yesterday, guided by balanced presentations from the YCC and the Committee on Teaching and Learning. The faculty respectfully exchanged well-justified and compassionate arguments for both positions, and while they did not reach a consensus on which policy to adopt, support for universal pass/fail was stronger among those present at the meeting; because of the discrepancy with the faculty survey results, we agreed that more discussion and broader input would be needed. I have therefore asked the Committee on Teaching and Learning to hold another information session . The committee, at my direction, will also conduct a second faculty survey. With those results in hand to advise me, I will announce a final decision by the end of next Tuesday. The decision may be to reaffirm the current policy, or to replace it with a policy of universal pass/fail that the faculty will be considering on Monday. The wording of that policy is on the fifth page of the report of the Committee on Teaching and Learning, here.
I fully understand the urgency to close debate and announce a final decision for this semester’s grading policy. To do this in a procedurally sound and inclusive way, we need a few additional days, and I am strongly committed to resolving this by the end of next Tuesday. In the meantime, if you are expecting to rely on grades of Credit or Pass, remember the accommodations already in place for you, and use them to prioritize your personal and family’s well-being. If you are making progress on reaching your academic goals, please continue to do so. However the faculty votes, it will still recognize your hard work.
I hope that you all stay safe and healthy, and I will be in touch.
Marvin M. Chun
Dean of Yale College
Richard M. Colgate Professor of Psychology; Neuroscience; Cognitive Science