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April 1, 2020

Student Assembly Calls for Universal S/U Grading

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In an emergency meeting over Zoom on Tuesday evening — a week before classes resume — the Student Assembly passed a resolution expressing support for a universal satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading scheme for Cornell students.

From the outset, the merits of the proposed grading system was debated by S.A. members and students representing both the Big Red Pass and Big Red Choice movements. A compromise was ultimately reached, involving the approval of two amendments; one changing “Universal Pass” to “Universal Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory”; the other reducing the requirement of a “satisfactory” grade from a C- to a D-.

With the amendments, the proposal to pass all students effectively becomes a blanket pass/fail grading system, only changing the necessary grades to receive a “satisfactory” grade.

“Someone’s choice of a letter grade stigmatizes the choice of another student who is forced to choose that S/U option,” argued Ahmed Elsammak ’21, a Big Red Pass organizer. “Sometimes, we have to limit the choices of people to protect those of us who are most marginalized.”

Some S.A. members disagreed, saying that the Cornell student body would prefer to have a greater stake in how they were graded, rather than a universal passing grade.

“Making this solely about Big Red Pass does a disservice to the purpose of what we are talking about,” said Sarah Sun ’23, S.A. freshman representative.

Ultimately, the amended resolution was passed in a 16-7-2 vote and will now be sent to the Cornell administration.

“We are proud to see the Student Assembly stand in solidarity with marginalized students who need a Universal grading policy,” Elsammak wrote on behalf of Big Red Pass in an email to The Sun. “We would have liked to see a Universal Pass be approved, but we think that the Universal Pass/Fail resolution was definitely a step in the right direction.”

The organizers of the Big Red Choice movement were disappointed by the outcome of the S.A. resolution, but remained confident in their beliefs.

“[Big Red Choice] stands resolute in our belief that the majority of the Cornell community supports providing students with the freedom to choose how to best adapt their academics to their own unique circumstances,” wrote Amelia Ng ’21, a Big Red Choice organizer, in an email to The Sun.

The merits of a universal pass/fail system will be heard by the Faculty Senate on Wednesday from 3:30 to 5 p.m., with a vote occurring directly after. This decision, along with those of the other branches of shared governance, will inform the eventual grading policy enacted by the administration.