Stanford cannot return to regular grading in the fall

July 29, 2020, 11:46 a.m.

This Thursday, the Faculty Senate will vote on the grading scheme for the fall quarter, with options ranging from standard grading to Universal Satisfactory/No Credit (S/NC). 

Although this quarter will take place after a period of increased planning and course development, many of the uncertainties of the pandemic remain. COVID-19 continues to spread through the country, with cases on the rise nationally — 8 percent of students in an ASSU survey reported that they or a loved one were infected in the spring. The economic fallout of the pandemic is worsening for many students and their families, continuing the economic instability many faced in the spring. The heightened risk of illness and the general difficulty learning and focusing on coursework in the current environment are still salient. 

For this reason, we strongly urge the Faculty Senate to not revert to regular grading. Given resistance from faculty and academic departments to the Universal S/NC even in the spring quarter, as well as the reversion to regular grading in the current summer quarter, it is unlikely that the Faculty Senate will vote to implement a Universal S/NC grading scheme in the fall. For this reason, we support an optional CR/NC scheme. But the basic policy of optional CR/NC will not be enough. The scheme must be supplemented with other measures to support students and ensure the change does not create further inequities. 

First, an optional CR/NC quarter will be ineffectual unless CR/NC is a real option for all students. This means that departments must count CR/NC courses toward major requirements across the board, and the University must count CR/NC courses toward general education requirements while not counting them toward the normal 36-unit cap. In this we echo the ASSU’s recommendations to the Faculty Senate. 

Second, CR/NC should be not only an option, but the recommended option. Here we echo an argument made by Nadia Jo ’23 in an op-ed for The Daily. While keeping letter grades an option for students who really need it, the administration can take steps to make CR/NC a viable option and encourage more students to choose it. Jo suggests this be done using a transcript notation noting that CR/NC was the recommended option for relevant quarters. Such a move takes the onus off students to justify their decision to take CR/NC. It also discourages students from choosing letter grading unless they have a clear reason, such as postgraduate plans, that would justify it. This could help mitigate disparities in GPA that may arise from the different situations students will find themselves in and assuage fears about opting out of letter grading.

Recommended CR/NC should not stop at a notation on the transcript, but should be a step toward encouraging students to balance due focus on coursework with the persistent adjustments and burdens that the developing pandemic will continue to bring. We echo Thomas Slabon Ph.D. ’22, who writes that S/NC is an opportunity to refocus on the purpose of higher education, and Cole Dill-DeSa ’22, who argues, after experiencing a quarter of S/NC grading, that it can help alleviate a culture of “duck syndrome.”

A recommended CR/NC policy, implemented properly, has the potential to aid in making a Stanford education a stimulating and fulfilling experience rather than an additional burden and source of anxiety for students. 

The summer Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Layo Laniyan ’22, Elizabeth Lindqwister ’21, Adrian Liu ’20, Patrick Monreal ’22, Megha Parwani ’21 and Cooper Ryan Veit ’22.

Contact the Editorial Board at opinions ‘at’

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