Surbhi Bharadwaj

After roughly 68 percent of respondents to a Yale College Council poll said they support a universal pass/no-credit grading system, members of the YCC voted to endorse the proposal on Thursday.

As students debated the merits of various grading policies in past weeks, several organizations have put their weight behind the movement for Universal Pass, including every residential college council. On Thursday, 20 YCC Senate members voted in favor of Universal Pass, while one voted against the proposal and another abstained. On the same day, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun discussed the proposal in a Thursday online faculty meeting.

“After extensive discussion, debate, and consideration of student input, the Yale College Council Senate has voted to endorse the Universal Pass grading system for the Spring 2020 semester,” the YCC statement announcing the endorsement read. “As a community, we cannot abandon the needs of the most vulnerable among us. We must stand with students who are weathering the worst impacts of this global pandemic.”

The YCC poll, which received responses from 4,544 undergraduate participants distributed roughly equally between classes and residential colleges, found that 3,123 respondents voted in support of universal pass/no-credit, while 1,060 students voted in favor of optional Credit/D/Fail. The remaining respondents indicated either no preference or for “other.”

The poll was partly designed to guide YCC decision-making as it prepared to decide whether it should endorse the measure. The organization voted on the resolution Monday, and they released results Thursday.

The poll did not include an option for “universal pass” — a policy which would give all students in all classes the mark of “pass” on their transcripts and has gained momentum since Yale began holding online classes. Rather, UP advocates encouraged those who supported the movement to select “universal pass/no-credit” on the YCC poll. A Universal Pass frequently-asked-questions page states that their policy is practically impossible: Yale has to maintain some kind of evaluation to be accredited, the document states, and “strict policies” prevent the system from being implemented.

Still, according to documents distributed on social media by UP advocates, this policy would make academics more equitable, since some students — especially those from low-income and international backgrounds — may not be able to keep up with their classes relative to their wealthier, more privileged counterparts.

But according to Kahlil Greene ’21, the YCC President, universal pass/no-credit is essentially the former proposal — just “translated to be operationally feasible,” he wrote in an email to the News. In this system, students who do not wish to have a class appear on their transcript — but also do not want to withdraw — can select “No-Credit,” he explained.

“The No-Credit is not meant to be used as an evaluative marker,” Greene said. A pass/fail system would come with a potential for students to receive a failing grade — an option Greene called “contradictory” to the movement.

“This approach best supports the wellbeing of the undergraduate student body,” the statement read. “COVID-19 has threatened our economic security, mental stability, and physical safety in every way imaginable. … In these extreme circumstances, students must be encouraged to prioritize the health of themselves, their families, and their communities.” 

YCC Senator Andrew Song ’22 — the sole dissenter in the YCC vote — said that he was “shocked” that the council discussed the topic for only around 45 minutes, since he noted that other student body organizations at other campuses debated the issue for longer. He added that this signalled that there are larger issues with “engagement and discourse” within the YCC Senate, as he did not see many senators ask questions about how universal pass/no-credit “may adversely affect some student groups.”

In response to Song’s comments however, YCC President Kahlil Greene ’21 noted that Song did not raise these concerns to the senate or to Greene. 

“We wanted to be respectful of everyone’s time as people have many responsibilities,” Greene said. “In fact, our survey indicated that [around] 50 percent [of students] have increased responsibilities at home because of the crisis.”

Song also questioned if Universal Pass would be sustainable in the long term. If COVID-19 reappears in the future and forces another campus closure, he said that it is unclear whether universal pass/no-credit would again be implemented. 

Still, Greene referred to YCC Senator Sarah Pitafi ’22 comments during their meeting in response to this concern. Pitafi noted during this meeting that while this is a valid point, as the currently elected representatives of the student body they have a responsibility to create a crisis response to the current situation instead of responding to “potential speculation” about the future.  

“I voted no because in a time where so many students are losing control of what they can do, I didn’t want Yale to take away the ability for students to choose what they want academically,” Song told the News. “Universal pass was not unanimously accepted by [Yale students], so a unanimous vote in favor of [universal pass] would not have fairly represented our school. It seems that I was the only voice in the YCC for the 25 [percent] of Yale students who wanted something other than [Universal Pass], and I’m okay with that. I’d do this again without hesitation.”

Katherine Du ’22 told the News that she abstained from voting after hearing the diversity of opinions regarding Universal Pass. 

She noted that while a universal policy would likely help students in various home environments, a number of students and faculty have voiced their opposition to the issue as well.

“I wanted to also honor these valid opinions, and I thus chose to abstain from voting,” Du said.

The poll numbers also shed light on the various obstacles students say they face while far from the Elm City. According to the YCC’s survey results analysis, students who support universal pass/no-credit face more barriers at home. Nearly 46 percent of respondents — 2,242 undergraduates — reported worrying about responsibilities at home. Another 500 said they are concerned about access to the internet. 

To Pitafi, a supporter for universal pass, this is where the proposed change can help.

“Countless students have cited obstacles that they should not have to overcome in the name of ‘resilience,’” Pitafi wrote in an email to the News. “Being forced to produce top-quality academic work when you’re faced with food insecurity or severe illness is not cultivating resilience — it’s showing inhumanity.”

If Chun decides to adopt further changes to academic policies, Yale will join institutions like Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University, among others, in making the switch. 

As at other schools, universal pass has not won the support of all students and faculty. According to the poll results, just under one quarter of respondents — some 1,000 undergraduates — indicated they prefer to keep the grading system where it currently stands. Some Yalies also set up an anonymous petition earlier this month to advocate for a more permeable pass-fail option, where undergraduates can ask for letter grades if they so choose. The organizers have asked to remain anonymous, but according to their webpage, nearly 300 responses have been received as of last month. 

Proponents like Pitafi have advocated for a mandatory pass policy for a number of reasons, including anxiety over the new coronavirus and graduate and professional school admissions. These students say a passing grade for all classes — instead of an opt-in “Credit” — would keep admissions officers from being potentially biased against students whose home situations force them to forgo letter grades. 

But at least at Yale, graduate, professional and undergraduate school admissions officers will evaluate applicants “holistically” and will respect decisions surrounding credit/fail and other grading options whether they are made by institutions or by individual students, according to a statement from the Office of the Provost’s website

In an email obtained by the News, Chun wrote that he plans to share more information on recent discussions surrounding the grading policy by the end of the week.

 

Correction, April 3: A previous version of this article stated that Timothy Dwight College Council did not endorse Universal Pass. This is incorrect. Every residential college council has put its support behind Universal Pass.

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu

Alayna Lee | alayna.lee@yale.edu