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Harvard Undergraduate Council President and Vice President Advocate for ‘Double A’ Grading Model

The Undergraduate Council holds meeting in the Smith Campus Center.
The Undergraduate Council holds meeting in the Smith Campus Center. By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Sharon Xu, Crimson Staff Writer

Undergraduate Council President James A. Mathew ’21 and Vice President Ifeoma “Ify” E. White-Thorpe ’21 advocated for a “Double A” grading model due to impacts stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak in an email to students Sunday.

In the email, Mathew and White-Thorpe wrote that after discussions with students as well as faculty and staff, they concluded that the Double A grading model was the “most equitable academic solution.” Under the model, professors would give all students grades of either A or A-minus at their discretion.

Mathew and White-Thorpe added that they believe a universal pass-fail system would also be “reasonable.” Under such a model — which has already been implemented at Columbia and MIT — all courses would be graded in a pass-fail system.

Still, the pair wrote that they prefer the Double A model because some students rely on letter grades for scholarship eligibility and graduate school applications.

“While we believe that universal pass-fail is reasonable, we strongly believe that the double A model is the most beneficial solution given the extenuating circumstances,” Mathew and White-Thorpe wrote in the email.

Council secretary Nicholas J. Brennan ’23 also sent an email later Sunday evening asking for input from undergraduates about grading policy changes.

Brennan included an optional form titled “Harvard College Grading Policy - UC Feedback.” The form asks students to rank three grading models — “Universal Pass/Fail,” “Opt-in Pass/Fail,” and “Double A” — as their first, second, or third choice.

Under an opt-in pass-fail model, students would decide whether to take each of their courses for a letter grade. Critics of the model — including Mathew and White-Thorpe — say it can put students that are experiencing hardships caused by the COVID-19 outbreak at a disadvantage.

The form also provides students with an opportunity to explain their preferences and suggest alternative grading policies. It asks undergraduates to put their concentration and yard/house affiliation but gives them the option to remain anonymous.

Brennan wrote in an email to The Crimson that Mathew and White-Thorpe’s email demonstrates their desire to have the College implement a grading model that best fits the needs of all students.

“I think that James and Ify’s advocacy for an alternative grading model reflects an appropriate response to an unprecedented degree of constraint placed upon members of the student body,” Brennan wrote. “The consequences of recent actions taken in response to COVID-19 at Harvard and on campuses around the world necessitate flexibility in order to ensure a level playing field for students throughout the remainder of the semester, especially for students who will now be completing their coursework in conditions that are suboptimal for academic performance.”

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Registrar Michael P. Burke announced March 12 that the College has reopened the deadline to drop courses and change grading status from letter-graded to pass-fail through April 13. On Friday, Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J.Claybaugh said administrators are “reviewing other policies to see whether they should be adjusted as well.”

Lowell House UC representative M. Thorwald “Thor” Larson ’21 wrote in an email to The Crimson that the Council is also assessing grading policy models, including Double A, that would assist students as they attend online classes off-campus.

“No student should be penalized academically by the COVID-19 crisis,” Larson wrote.

—Staff writer Sharon Xu can be reached at sharon.xu@thecrimson.com

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