The independent news organization of Duke University


A professor's case for satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading

satire from recess



Hello class, 

I hope this email finds you well during these uncertain times. Ahead of the April 27 deadline, I would like to recommend that you take my course S/U. Please do NOT take this class for a grade. 

This may come as a surprise to those of you who have exalted me to an unbelievable status, as if I have any real power at this university. From what I understand, several of my students are in different time zones, are facing undue stress or have not adapted well to the online learning platform. Well frankly, neither have I! It normally takes me a month to put up my syllabus, despite my best efforts to plan and shake off procrastination (shocker! I am human). Imagine having only a week to redesign an entire class for Zoom! I can barely manage Powerpoint. 

Since we are all being honest these days about our situations, I did not open the Zoom training courses until the Sunday before. Yes, I sent some emails saying my team of TAs and I were “on it,” but in reality, I was on my bed capsizing with anxiety. That is not academic vigor you see in my eyes: it’s sadness.

Watching my colleagues pee with their camera on, laugh about their new co-workers in the Zoom chat or suggest yet another Zoom happy hour makes me question ever thinking that teaching is my passion. I'm not even on tenure track.

Likewise, the amount of times you all have giggled at my frozen face on-screen, or even better, the fact that everyone’s mics and cameras stay off during class, has brought me nothing but sorrow. I would like to turn my camera off too. But these are trying times. Trust me. We are all trying.

I know you, you know me. The papers you write for class are not worth the A- I always give them. I do not want to read your essay and give you a compassionate grade because you tried this time. Let’s save each other the misery. I apologize for the terrible prompt: When you teach the same class every year, get ignored in faculty meetings about redesigning programs and now have to readjust your research plans around COVID-19, you give up a bit. Just a bit. 

One silver lining to this all is that Zoom meme page. It is quite humorous. Your generation has all of the joy I sold for my Ph.D. I have a doctorate in economics, yet I cannot teach a 10-year-old Common Core math. You know what else is humorous? When you leave your video on while you bake sourdough with your family during class. I would like to join in too.

To all my students who require grading for special circumstances, I can manage your essays. You tend to try more anyway. But for the rest of you, this LDOC I am asking you — given all the extensions I have allowed, the STINFs I am forced to accept and the random office hour visits turned therapy sessions — to please give up. Not just for my sake, but for the spirit of compassion, for radical transformation — or, to cut me some slack. If you remember, I am a human too, and I feel everything you feel. 

Please take my class pass/fail. Please.

Stay well,

Your Professor 


Share and discuss “A professor's case for satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading” on social media.