Ryan Chiao

As Yale Law School students tune into online classes from across the world, the school’s faculty voted to adopt a universal credit or fail grading system for spring 2020, according to a Wednesday email to the law school community from YLS Dean Heather Gerken. 

In the email, Gerken explained that the faculty committee charged with assessing changes to the grading system took into account the variety of students’ circumstances following displacement amid the global pandemic. According to the email, the committee decided unanimously that these extraordinary times call for an extraordinary response. 

“For those of you finding yourself in a tough situation right now, I want you to know that this is the beginning of our efforts to help you, not the end,” Gerken wrote in her email to the YLS community. “My administration is working hard to support students in a number of ways as we navigate a set of extraordinary circumstances.

YLS Director of Media Relations Debra Kroszner told the News that “all transcripts will include an annotation making clear that spring 2020 classes were graded only on a credit/fail basis due to COVID-19.”

Robert Post LAW ’77, Sterling law professor and former law school dean, said that the change in the grading system reflects faculty members’ concern that COVID-19 is prompting disparities in students’ ability to perform academic work. Post assessed that these disparities would negatively impact disadvantaged students were the school to implement an “opt-in” system.

“If we opted for an ‘opt-in’ system of credit/fail, employers reviewing transcripts would in all likelihood, and perhaps without even being aware of their own thought processes, more highly value transcripts with grades than transcripts that simply display credits,” Post said. “This would be unfair, given the profoundly significant and largely random effects of the virus.”

Students interviewed by the News expressed gratitude for the academic accommodations made in response to the pandemic. 

“[COVID-19’s] burdens fall disproportionately on first-generation students and the economically precarious,” wrote YLS student group First Generation Professionals Communications Director Jacob Schriner-Briggs LAW ’21. “Reducing academic stress was one way Yale Law School could aid those students during what is in many ways an unprecedented crisis. We’re appreciative the faculty voted to provide the material relief a mandatory credit/fail system provides and now hope that the university at large will do right by all its employees and the working people of the greater New Haven community.” 

Duncan Hosie LAW ’21 echoed that sentiment and said that the credit/fail policy is the only fair way to account for these differences. He said that this policy allows YLS students to prioritize taking care of family members “without academic guilt.”

Hosie added that it would have been “exceptionally unfair” for administrators to assume that students were on an equal playing field. 

Sara Worth LAW ’21 commented that she was heartwarmed to see her classmates band together to support the initiative. She said that students need to focus on their own health in addition to the welfare of their families and communities. Worth highlighted that it is “imperative” to remove academic competition from this calculus.

Supporters of #NoFailYale  — a counterpart undergraduate movement advocating for a “universal pass” grading system — commended the law school’s newly instituted grading system. Carlos Brown ’23, a founding member of the student coalition, said that this was a sign of tides turning in the group’s favor.

But Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun did not immediately respond to questions about how the law school’s decision may affect the undergraduate grading plan. 

Chun previously announced that he would bring up the universal pass system in his meeting with the faculty on April 2.

John Besche | john.besche@yale.edu