HLS Tweaks Grading Policy

HLS responds to student concerns about previous changes

In response to student concern about a recent grading policy change that assigned points to the pass-fail system, the Harvard Law School administration has decided to remove point values from transcripts, according to the Law School’s student government.

The decision—the latest in a series of tweaks to the grading policy since this summer—was met with approval from student government representatives who praised the Law School administration’s receptiveness to issues raised over the past few weeks.

“This is a school where people are taking students’ concerns seriously,” said Harvard Law School Student Government President Jennifer D. Dein.

Student government representatives sent Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow a letter two weeks ago stating that the grading policy change would allow employers to calculate GPAs in evaluating job candidates, making the application process more competitive.

Under that policy, four points are awarded for a High Pass, three for Pass, two for Low Pass, and zero for a failing grade.

The change—intended to make Latin Honors calculations more precise—was not publicly announced, and the Law School administration implemented the policy over the summer, including the revisions in the 2010-2011 Student Handbook.

“If the numbers are primarily for the school to determine Latin Honors, there does not seem to be a reason for the employers to have the information at their fingertips,” the student government wrote to Minow.

Last week, the administration decided to revise the policy to remove the calculated average from the transcript, but add an explanatory paragraph about point values on the back.

Any reference to point values has now been removed from the transcript, and the administration will only use the point system to calculate Latin Honors, Minow announced to the student government on Friday, according to Dein.

“I don’t think it was a really easy decision,” Dein said.

According to Jessica L. Tiller, a second-year law student and student government director of academic affairs, Minow does not plan to announce the change, allowing the student government to decide how to communicate the adjustment.

Tiller said an announcement has been posted on the student government website and as of Saturday representatives were deciding whether to e-mail the student body.

Though students have expressed concerns about the administration’s lack of communication, Tiller said she thought an announcement from the administration may “blow [the issue] out of proportion and make it a bigger deal.”

“The student handbook is publicly available and it is our responsibility to know what is in it,” Tiller said, adding that she was pleased that Minow “took what we said to heart and thought they were valid concerns.”

“We got a better sense that it was not a haphazard decision,” Dein said.

—Staff writer Zoe A.Y. Weinberg can be reached at zoe.weinberg@college.harvard.edu.

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