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DSG passes resolution urging extension for letter grade opt-in deadline

Duke Student Government Senate passed a resolution in favor of extending the deadline for students to opt in to receive letter grades at its Wednesday night meeting. 

The new resolution called on Duke to implement a system where students could view their final grades before choosing between the letter grade and satisfactory/unsatisfactory options, and requested a response from Provost Sally Kornbluth or Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education. If the change is not possible, it calls for Duke to reopen discussion about alternative grading policies.

However, the resolution was changed shortly before Wednesday night’s meeting. Before the changes, it called for Duke to institute a universal satisfactory grading system, and to extend the deadline under the current model only if the universal satisfactory system was not feasible. In addition, the old resolution also suggested the option for universal S/U grading if neither of the two previous options would work.

The new resolution eliminated that request, despite maintaining language earlier in the text of the resolution pointing to some student support for that proposal. 

Senior Manish Kumar, DSG vice president for academic affairs, explained during the meeting that the change was made in light of new pieces of information that circulated during the day.

He cited reporting from The Chronicle that Academic Council Chair Kerry Haynie supported the current policy. Haynie told The Chronicle Wednesday afternoon that the executive committee of the council, which serves as the faculty’s governing body but has no formal role in grading policy, believed that “no student is disadvantaged by the policy” because the University includes a note on transcripts, among other reasons.

Kumar also cited an email from John Blackshear, interim dean for academic affairs in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, that was sent to undergraduate students Wednesday afternoon. The email reaffirmed support of the current grading plan and further responded to student concerns.

The DSG resolution comes after senators presented data from an online survey administered to students in which they collected responses from nearly half the student body. 

Duke’s current grading policy consists of a default S/U grade with the option of taking a letter grade. Under the current policy, students must also choose between the options by April 22, the last day of classes, before many final exams or projects have been recorded in the gradebook. 

Kumar acknowledged that it would be productive for Duke to look into alternative policies, but that with classes ending in two weeks, the time frame was restrictive. He explained that he wanted to present a practical demand to the administration.

“This is the most feasible ask for [administration] and one that will still benefit students in difficult situations,” Kumar said. 

After the University adopted the current policy March 18, petitions began circulating to advocate for universal S/U or universal satisfactory grading.

Bennett told The Chronicle March 30 that Duke recognized other colleges had adopted a range of policies, but was not planning to change its own decision. He wrote in an email Thursday morning that he planned to speak with DSG to learn more about the request.

Although many of Duke’s peer colleges have opted for universal S/U grading, none have instituted a universal satisfactory policy.

Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University have introduced mandatory S/U grading systems. Columbia University, Northwestern University and Yale University have universal pass/fail grading systems, while Dartmouth College has a similar credit/no-credit policy.  

Editor's note: This story was updated Thursday morning to include Bennett's comment after the resolution was passed.



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