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Undergrad classes to have default satisfactory/unsatisfactory option for Spring semester

Spring semester undergraduate classes will now be automatically graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory scale, wrote Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education, in an email to The Chronicle Wednesday morning.

Students who would like a letter grade in a class must notify the registrar by April 22 at 5 p.m. Eastern time. He said that Provost Sally Kornbluth directed administrators to begin looking into potential changes last week. Several days ago, students started a petition that received nearly 2,500 signatures asking for classes to have a satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading option as the University transitions to online learning in the age of COVID-19.

"We began working on this plan, in earnest, before learning about the petition," he wrote. "Still, it became clear—from the student petition, numerous faculty messages, and notes from parents—that this change would greatly benefit the curricular experience this semester, and we greatly appreciated the input and feedback."

Courses taken for S/U grades will be allowed to count for all requirements—curricular, major, continuation and graduation—according to an email from Kornbluth to faculty obtained by The Chronicle. The email added that students' GPAs won't be impacted by a satisfactory or unsatisfactory grade, Dean's List will be suspended for this semester and Duke will add a note to student transcripts marking the "extraordinary circumstances encountered in the present semester."

At the time of the original announcement, no decision had been made for whether graduate and professional classes would receive similar treatment. However, Bennett wrote in an email to The Chronicle Thursday afternoon that the S/U policy will also apply to undergraduates taking 500/600 level graduate classes.

He said that leaders from the four undergraduate schools, Office of Undergraduate Education, Student Affairs and Academic Affairs worked on developing the new policy.

"This group debated several plans, and decided to embrace one that we expect will mitigate anxieties—among both students and faculty—enhance students' course engagement, while allowing students to receive a letter grade, if they choose," Bennett wrote.

Editor's Note: This article was updated Wednesday morning with the information from Kornbluth's email to faculty. It was also updated Thursday afternoon with information about 500/600 level classes.

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