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Following Uncertainty, Undergraduate Council’s Legislation Endorsing a ‘Double A’ Grading Policy Has ‘Definitively Failed to be Adopted’

Due to the university's transition to remote learning, the Undergraduate Council hosted a virtual Zoom emergency meeting, open to the public, regarding endorsements of grading policies to the university administration.
Due to the university's transition to remote learning, the Undergraduate Council hosted a virtual Zoom emergency meeting, open to the public, regarding endorsements of grading policies to the university administration. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Sharon Xu, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard’s Undergraduate Council will not endorse a “Double A” grading policy, marking the Council’s third reversal on the system in just over twenty-four hours.

In an email to representatives Thursday afternoon, Council secretary Nicholas J. Brennan ’23 wrote the legislation endorsing a “Double A” grading policy has “definitively failed to be adopted by the Harvard Undergraduate Council.” After the Council first discussed the legislation at its Wednesday emergency session, decisions about it have flipped from endorsement to no endorsement, then to endorsement again, finally ending without an endorsement.

The first change in the Council’s position occurred during Wednesday’s virtual meeting when some representatives changed their minds and decided to vote against an endorsement, which resulted in the legislation failing after it originally passed by a hair-thin margin.

On Thursday morning, Council President James A. Mathew ’21 announced that it appeared the legislation had in fact passed over a Slack group made up of Council members. Upon an initial review of the bylaws, the Council determined that representatives were not allowed to change votes on the legislation. Mathew noted that members’ ability to change their votes only applies for amendments and not for regular legislation such as the act to endorse the “Double A” model.

The final reversal came just hours later, after the Council discovered yet another procedural wrinkle stemming from Section 35.22: Approval Processes in Article III of its bylaws. The legislation on endorsing “Double A” fell within the Council’s Tier 1 category, its highest level of publicity. Under the Council’s bylaws, Tier 1 legislation must pass through a two-thirds vote of the entire Council, not just of members present.

Brennan explained the bylaws involved in his email to Council members about how the “Double A” legislation “definitively failed.”

“While we did attain a supermajority of council members present (70.6% Aye), we did not attain a supermajority of the entire Council,” he wrote.

Samyra C. Miller ’21 discovered the pivotal issue with the legislation while examining the Constitution and Bylaws of the Council following Wednesday’s virtual meeting.

In an email to The Crimson, Miller wrote that, after reading the passage on Tier 1 publicity, she remembered that the Council stated they calculated the vote by the number of Council members present during the meeting. According to Miller, she quickly discovered that the legislation to endorse a “Double A” grading model failed under these guidelines and shared her discovery on social media.

“Given the overwhelming nature of the meeting, I understand that it was easy to overlook this mistake,” Miller wrote in the email. “I think the UC's response to the grading policy issue could have gone a lot smoother had James and Ify not sent out their first endorsement email without communicating with the council and the student body.”

Prior to Wednesday’s virtual meeting, Mathew and Council Vice President Ifeoma “Ify” E. White-Thorpe ’21 advocated for a “Double A” grading model in an email to students on Sunday.

In an email to The Crimson, Council treasurer Noah Harris ’22 wrote that most of the confusion may have been caused by difficulties related to organizing a Zoom meeting with over 300 participants. However, Harris wrote that he does not regret the Council allowing the student body at large to share their opinions.

“That is what we should be doing: getting the raw opinion of the student body,” Harris wrote. “This was just a minor error with the rules, but because this vote is so important, any small mistake can cost us credibility.”

Currier House representative Jack M. Swanson ’22 offered a different perspective. In an email to The Crimson, he wrote that the Council’s regulatory procedure caused further confusion on a topic about which students deserve clarity.

“If one thing is clear from the student testimony we were able to hear, it's that there is not one perfect solution to the inequities created by the situation we find ourselves in, and any reasonable policy from the UC requires nuance, an abundance of student input, and clear leadership during a turbulent time,” Swanson wrote. “Unfortunately, we saw none of those this week.”

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

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