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FAS Considers Reopening Option to Switch to Pass-Fail Grading

By Mairead B. Baker
By James S. Bikales, Crimson Staff Writer

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences’s Educational Policy Committee is considering reopening the option to take a course pass-fail, even though the original deadline has passed, Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh said in a faculty meeting Tuesday.

Claybaugh said the idea stemmed from a proposal the Undergraduate Council unanimously passed Sunday calling for “student-friendly” grading policies as most undergraduates continue to attend classes remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The UC legislation suggests extending the pass-fail deadline to Nov. 30 and allowing courses taken as pass-fail to count for concentration and General Education credit. The deadline to petition to change a class’s grading status to pass-fail is the fifth Monday of the semester, which was Oct. 5.

“The timing, to be frank, is a little unfortunate,” Claybaugh said. “The UC came up with this idea on Sunday, so we are now considering it as an EPC and we’ll have a decision soon.”

After Harvard sent most students home to de-densify its campus in March, the Educational Policy Committee decided to shift to a universal emergency satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading system for the spring semester. The committee decided to return to a normal grading system this fall despite the unusual circumstances.

Claybaugh did not say to what date the committee was considering extending the pass-fail deadline, or whether it was considering using pass-fail courses for concentration and general education credit.

Tuesday’s meeting, held via Zoom, was the second virtual faculty meeting FAS has held since Harvard moved to remote work and teaching in March. Faculty voted using Zoom’s poll function and applauded using the “clap” emoji; several forgot to unmute their microphones before speaking.

FAS Dean Claudine Gay also announced at the meeting that more than 150 FAS staff took voluntary early retirement packages this year as the school suffers the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Harvard administrators said last week that nearly 700 staff across the University writ large agreed to retire by the end of the year in exchange for enhanced retirement benefits.

Gay also reported that a committee to examine Harvard’s tenure-track system — announced last December — is moving forward on schedule, and that she had appointed Molecular and Cellular Biology professor Hopi E. Hoekstra to chair it.

Faculty pushed for a review of the FAS’s tenure procedures last winter following the University’s decision to deny tenure to Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Lorgia García Peña, whose scholarship engages with race and ethnicity. Hoekstra was not among the 107 faculty who signed the letter to Gay requesting the review.

Gay told The Crimson in March, however, that the committee will consider neither individual cases nor Harvard’s use of ad hoc committees, a particularly contentious part of the review process that some have argued disadvantages diverse candidates.

Gay said Tuesday that the committee will examine “many aspects” of the promotion procedures based on 15 years of experience with the tenure-track system, which was implemented in 2005.

“The committee will be charged with identifying where there are opportunities in our review process to be even more effective,” she said.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

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