Courtesy of Julia Schorr

The grading policies of different Ivies to Cornell's, in response to COVID-19 related challenges.

April 9, 2020

Cornell Recently Changed Its Grading Policy for the Spring Semester. Here’s How the University Compares to Its Peers.

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With in-person classes canceled at colleges across the country, many institutions have adapted their grading policies to reflect the dramatic change in academic experience. But, even within the Ivy League, those decisions have not all been the same.

After several weeks of contentious debate, including widely-circulated petitions, Student Assembly resolutions and a Faculty Senate debate, Cornell ultimately enacted an opt-in Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory policy.

The decision allows students to change their classes to the S/U grading option until May 12, the last day of classes. The University also waived restrictions on the number of courses students could take S/U and is allowing courses taken S/U to count for major and minor requirements.

Cornell initially decided to extend the S/U option to all courses until April 21, but on April 5 announced that it would extend the deadline to change grading option until May 12. Transcripts will now also contain a notation explaining the “anomalies associated with the Spring 2020 semester.”

While the Student Assembly passed a resolution in support of a universal S/U policy, Cornell’s Faculty Senate voted against it on April 2.

Three other Ivies’ systems mirror Cornell’s opt-in policy — expanded S/U options, but still offering the choice to take classes for a letter grade — while the remaining four will grade all classes for the rest of the semester on an S/U basis.

Brown University

Brown University originally announced on March 30 that students could change all courses to Satisfactory/No Credit, giving students until mid-April to make their decision.

However, on April 3, Dean Rashid Zia announced in an email to the Brown community that the deadline to switch to S/N was extended until May 1. Zia explained that this extension was made to “provide students with more time and opportunity to consider their grade options.”

Despite the extension, students at Brown are currently campaigning for universal pass — which would grant all students credit for courses taken, regardless of grade — and mandatory S/NC policies.

The Brown Daily Herald reported on April 6 that over 2,400 undergraduate students and 41 professors had signed a petition in favor of universal pass. Similar to Cornell’s Student Assembly, the Executive Board of Brown’s Undergraduate Council of Students endorsed universal pass, according to The Herald.

Columbia University

Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger announced on March 20 that all courses would be graded Pass/Fail, making the school the first Ivy to announce a universal P/F system.

The Columbia Daily Spectator reported that, before this decision was announced, students were circulating a petition — which had garnered almost 5,000 signatures —  in support of opt-in P/F grading for all courses.

Dartmouth College

On March 23, Dartmouth College also made the decision to change all of its courses to Credit/No Credit, announced by Provost Joseph Helble in an email to the Dartmouth community.

Dartmouth’s policy, unlike the other Ivies, does not correspond with a specific letter grade threshold needed for students to earn credit. Instead, “No Credit” indicates “failure to complete the course satisfactorily according to criteria to be announced by the instructor at the beginning of the term,” The Dartmouth reported.

The grading policies across the Ivies vary. On April 5, Cornell's were updated.

Meghana Srivastava / Sun Assistant News Editor

The grading policies across the Ivies vary. On April 5, Cornell’s were updated.


Harvard University

Days after Dartmouth’s decision came Harvard’s: On March 27, Claudine Gay, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, announced an Emergency Satisfactory/Emergency Unsatisfactory system, which would grade all Harvard courses on an S/U scale.

Before the decision was announced, The Harvard Crimson reported that some students supported a “Double A” system, which would award all students a A or A- grade in all courses.

This policy ultimately failed to garner support from the Undergraduate Council.

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania Provost Wendell Pritchett announced on March 20 that all courses would allow for an opt-in Pass/Fail option. Students have until April 13 to change their grading basis.

Of the four Ivy League universities to offer opt-in policies, Penn’s deadline is the earliest.

Princeton University 

Princeton announced its opt-in Pass/D/Fail system on March 19, which “urged faculty” to include the P/D/F option in all courses. Faculty can also make their courses solely P/D/F at their discretion.

Similar to Cornell, students can take as many courses with the P/D/F option as they desire, and departments are expected to accept courses taken P/D/F for major or minor requirements.

Princeton students have until May 1, their last day of classes, to decide which grading option they would like to use for each of their courses.

However, The Daily Princetonian reported that the “decentralized” policy has caused debate on campus, with departments’ varying policies on which courses will be offered P/D/F causing the option to be available for some courses, but not others.

Yale University 

Yale University extended a P/D/F option to all courses on March 20. However, Yale recently revised this decision on April 7, joining Columbia and Harvard by replacing it with a universal Pass/D/Fail system.

The Yale Daily News reported that this decision was largely inspired by faculty support.

According to The News, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun’s announcement of the policy change was driven by a faculty member poll, which revealed that 55 percent of faculty supported a mandatory P/D/F system.