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Undergrad Education Dean Claybaugh Asks Faculty to Support Students at Risk of Failing Classes Amid Pandemic

Harvard faculty and administrators are working to support students at risk of receiving unsatisfactory grades, following the College's March 28 switch to emergency satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading for all spring classes due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Harvard faculty and administrators are working to support students at risk of receiving unsatisfactory grades, following the College's March 28 switch to emergency satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading for all spring classes due to the coronavirus pandemic. By Aiyana G. White
By Kevin R. Chen, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard faculty and administrators are working to support students at risk of receiving unsatisfactory grades following the College’s March 28 switch to emergency satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading for all spring classes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh asked faculty to communicate their expectations for satisfactory work to their students and asked students to reach out to their instructors if they have grading concerns.

The Office of Undergraduate Education has encouraged instructors to set flexible deadlines for students facing challenges during the pandemic.

“We’d encourage you to be as flexible as you can, consistent with the goals of the course, in adjusting deadlines for those students,” the OUE’s guidance to faculty reads.

Additionally, students who encounter coronavirus-related difficulties can petition for an extension to their coursework deadlines up to July 1, per decision by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Standing Committee on Undergraduate Educational Policy.

The emergency grading scheme will be the same as standard satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading, but will carry an emergency notation on transcripts, according to the College’s coronavirus website page. While a satisfactory grade does not count toward a student’s grade point average, the College’s handbook states that an unsatisfactory grade is a “failing grade” and counts as a mark of 0.0 toward the GPA.

Prior to the adoption of the emergency grading system, FAS Registrar Michael P. Burke announced extensions to the deadlines for dropping courses and switching between letter grading and pass-fail options. Several academic departments then said they would accept pass-fail courses for concentration credit.

Students who elected to take courses pass-fail then, however, will now have to meet a higher bar to pass under the universal grading system. While a grade of D-minus or higher would earn a “pass,” “satisfactory” marks require grades of C-minus or higher.

Claybaugh said she emailed the roughly 300 faculty members teaching courses that some students chose to take pass-fail, asking them to inform those students whether they are on track to receive a satisfactory grade. She also asked those instructors to identify students who wanted to take their courses pass-fail and to help those students in particular achieve satisfactory marks.

Faculty members said they are aware of the challenges students are facing and plan to offer students flexibility in light of them.

“My sense is that faculty are very aware of the challenges increasing numbers of our undergraduate and graduate students are facing and are doing our best to make sure that students are given opportunities to pass all their courses this semester,” Comparative Literature professor Karen L. Thornber said. “We want to do our best to support our students as conditions become more dire across the nation and around the world.”

—Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at kevin.chen@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

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