Yale News

Following an inconclusive Thursday faculty meeting where attendants’ preference seemed to contradict earlier results of a faculty-wide survey, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun delayed a final decision until Tuesday on whether the college will adopt a universal pass/fail system in response to the coronavirus pandemic to reflect the unusual circumstances of this semester.

In a March 20 email, Chun had encouraged undergraduates to continue debating various grading policies until the Thursday meeting, when he promised to discuss various proposals with the faculty. Meanwhile, many of Yale’s peer institutions, including Harvard College and Northwestern University, adopted measures similar to a pass/fail proposal. Following the faculty meeting on Thursday, however, Chun said he will postpone his decision and inform the students by the end of Tuesday.

According to Chun, the faculty members present at Thursday’s meeting leaned toward universal pass/fail — a system where letter grades are exchanged for a “pass” or “fail” with an option to withdraw. But he wrote that this trend ran against the findings of an earlier faculty survey, in which 42.9 percent of 340 responding professors supported the current policy with unlimited Credit/D/Fs and 28.2 percent preferred universal pass/no-credit. In an unofficial straw poll conducted during the meeting, around 65 percent of faculty present indicated that they did not favor the University’s current policy, according to three attendees and a screenshot of poll results obtained by the News.

Still, in an email to undergraduates on Saturday, Chun wrote that “more discussion and broader input” is needed before a decision can be made.

“I fully understand the urgency to close debate and announce a final decision for this semester’s grading policy,” he wrote in the announcement. “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.”

Chun’s email also misconstrued the results of the recent YCC survey. While he wrote that one in three students are caring for someone who has “fallen ill,” the survey results reflect a different figure: roughly 30 percent of respondents stated that they are concerned about “sick/immunocompromised” loved ones. When asked about the error, Chun said he plans to send a correction letter this week.

According to Yale College Committee on Teaching and Learning chair Michael Koelle, it remains unclear why the outcome of the two faculty votes conflicted with one another. Different faculty members may have participated in the survey and in the Thursday advisory vote, Koelle said. Or, he wrote in an email to the News, some faculty could have changed their minds.

Last month, Yale College expanded its Credit/D/Fail policies to all students in light of the difficulties associated with online learning. But the transition to a semester away from campus has sparked a lengthy, polarizing debate on grading policies amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“I understand the frustration with the delay, and I’m grateful for everyone’s patience,” Chun wrote in a Sunday email to the News. Chun also indicated that he announced the original grading policy changes on March 20 — earlier, he said, than “many of our peer schools.”

“However, given the uncertainties in predicting the impact of the pandemic, both faculty and students wanted to study and discuss the options further in a thorough and inclusive way,” he wrote. “Now, the faculty need just one more day to complete their deliberations and to cast their final preference.”

Chun also said that instituting a Pass/No-Credit policy — which 68 percent of the recent YCC survey respondents voted for — is no longer an option. According to a Friday email to instructors obtained by the News, Chun is conducting another faculty poll on Monday. In the poll, participants will choose between two policies: An optional Credit/D/Fail policy or a universal pass/fail with “narrative commendations,” where professors can praise students who have done “outstanding work,” the email read. These commendations would not show up on transcripts, according to the CTL’s report. The poll will be open for five hours on Monday afternoon, the email added.

“To inform the final decision, I am hoping that the faculty will show a clear majority of support for one of the two policies,” Chun wrote to the News.

Koelle told the News in an email that since the committee wrote its report, they learned that Universal Pass/No-Credit could pose problems for University accreditation. But combined with Yale College’s current policy that already allows students to withdraw from classes without a record until the last day of finals, a universal Pass/Fail policy “will in effect approximate” universal pass/no-credit, Koelle added.

According to a CTL report included in Chun’s email to students, few  in the committee “actually favor” either option presented in the surveys and instead suggested modified hybrids. Information about potential policies from Thursday’s faculty meeting will be provided for faculty at the Monday discussion, Koelle added, for those who were unable to participate in the prior meeting.

“We hope that many of them will avail themselves of this opportunity,” he wrote.

Still, the University’s weeks-long deliberation has caused frustration and disappointment among students, YCC Academics Director Sarah Pitafi ’22 said. And for Universal Pass organizer Carlos Brown ’23, Yale’s delay in making a decision has been “disheartening.”

“For students and other stakeholders’ sake, I hope that this is the last extension the administration gives themself and that the support of students and faculty makes it clear UP is the only option,” Brown wrote in a message to the News.

While many of Yale’s peer institutions implemented mandatory grading policies without letter grades, Cornell University bucked this trend when its provost announced Sunday that an opt-in binary grading scheme would stay.


Alayna Lee contributed reporting.


Updated: April 6, 12:49 a.m.

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu