April 3, 2020

EDITORIAL | It’s Time for an Update, Cornell

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On any given day, Cornellians might receive emails from the Vice President of Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi, the office of President Martha Pollack, the Vice Provost Lisa Nishii, residence hall directors, professors, major advisors and department chairs — to name a few. All of these sources provide pieces of helpful information. But the reality is that students aren’t sure who they should be listening to — or who to ask for help.

To add fuel to the fire, professors, facilitators and advisors — those who students would ordinarily look to for guidance — also send mixed messages. In preparation for the resumption of classes, students have received emails from professors demonstrating their own confusion. Some professors insist their course will see no changes. Others are still waiting to provide an updated syllabus.

Now, as the Monday resumption of classes quickly approaches, consistent communication is more key than ever. The most salient manifestation of this problem surrounds the debate over this semester’s grading options.

In an emergency Zoom meeting on Tuesday, Cornell’s Student Assembly called for a universal satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading scheme for undergraduates. But on Wednesday, the faculty senate met and voted against it.

As students and faculty scramble, the University falls short from creating one sturdy voice of leadership, empathy and decisiveness that Cornellians crave.

The most recent grading policy update came when the University announced on March 19 that students would be allowed to change their grading for any Spring 2020 course to S/U, and extended the deadline for doing so. Nishii reiterated this policy on March 22 in an email to the student body.

A lot has changed since then. Many students were still on campus on March 19 — some were even seen packing Collegetown bars at the time. It wasn’t until March 20 that Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) called for non-essential personnel to remain home. 

On March 19, there were around 15,000 cases of coronavirus in the U.S.; as of April 3, there were over 275,000.

Family members have succumbed to COVID-19 since March 19. Students at Cornell’s peer institutions have died from complications.

Regardless of one’s advocacy for student choice or universal S/U, all students can agree that it’s time for an official update from the University regarding grading policies. Classes start Monday — undergraduates scattered around the globe have homework, impending exams and weighty assignments due in the next week — and it’s time that Cornellians know how they are going to be graded.

The confusion fomented by the grading conundrum is just one symptom of a larger issue. Knowing the grading scheme is vital, but it would be a step taken in vain if not followed by clear, concise and regular communication moving forward.

Every week brings a new challenge. The only predictable thing about this semester — and likely, this year — is that it will be novel, challenging and fatiguing. Though structure may be intangible, Cornellians need and deserve consistent communication and a steady place to turn.


The above editorial reflects the opinions of The Cornell Daily Sun. Editorials are penned collaboratively between the Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editor and Opinion Editor, in consultation with additional Sun editors and staffers. The Sun’s editorials are independent of its news coverage, other columnists and advertisers.