Statement from the College regarding student grading policy protest

This week, I received emails from students who explained they were working to organize a strike against classes. I know our students are facing significant challenges, personal, financial and educational, in the wake of this pandemic, and I wanted these students to know we care about them and want them to be successful at Vassar. It is for that reason that Dean Alamo and several other deans and I met with the students to discuss their concerns.

As I wrote to the student body, I recognized that students with better study environments will be more able to succeed in online classes than those with challenging study environments, and in that sense, some students feel the universal NRO is inequitable. Likewise, those who have lost a loved one, or whose parents have both just lost their livelihoods, will have a harder time being successful. Our faculty considered all of this when they looked at what the grading policy should be during the time of COVID-19. They also considered the many students who have spoken up to say that they want the option of receiving a letter grade. The reasons for this are many: Some feel it will be helpful in getting to the next phase, whether that is graduate school or an internship; others have merit scholarships that may be in question if they do not have a letter grade; and still others simply wanted the right to attain the grade for which they have worked hard all semester.

By our governance, the Committee on Curricular Policy (CCP) recommends grading policy to the full faculty for a vote, which they have done. Upon hearing students concerns, the CCP again discussed and has held firm on universal NRO and added several aspects to mitigate the potential of failure. For instance, the deadline for selecting NRO has been additionally extended to May 1.  And students may withdraw from any class following the final exam and not have a failure appear on their transcript.

In adopting NRO, Vassar is in keeping with many of our peer liberal arts colleges, most of whom have adopted an NRO-like approach, and we are giving considerably more agency to our students. I understand several other colleges across the country have received very similar notices of impending strikes, with similar demands—universal pass or A/A- mandates. A quick scan of Change.org, for example, shows more than 100 schools have seen petitions demanding universal pass. As of this writing, no school of which we are aware is granting a universal pass, however.

Our faculty is deeply committed to working with each and every student to find a path for success. I would urge any student who is concerned to reach out to their professors or to [Associate] Dean [of the Faculty and Professor of Biology Kathleen M.] Susman or Dean [of Studies and Professor of Psychology Debra M.] Zeifman, who can help.

Finally, in terms of the strike, I believe firmly in the right to peacefully protest. If students do not attend class or do not submit their assignments, it will be up to the individual faculty member to determine how to take that into account.

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