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Spring Quarter grading policy

Categories: Academics, Policies

On Thursday, March 26, the Faculty Senate adopted a grading policy for Spring Quarter. It provides that all university courses (with the exception of those offered by the Graduate School of Business, the School of Law and the School of Medicine MD program unless opted in by those schools) will be Satisfactory/No Credit for Spring Quarter 2019-20.

The formal legislation adopted by the Senate, which includes several other related policy changes, is available at the Faculty Senate site:

Below is a message from Faculty Senate Chair Tim Stearns further describing the policy changes.

The Faculty Senate has adopted a Spring Quarter 2019-20 grading policy of Satisfactory/No Credit. We have heard from a number of students who are anxious about how this change in grading policy might disadvantage them as well as from faculty who are concerned about the impact on their courses. These are understandable concerns.

During such distressing times amid unprecedented circumstances, when most students have been displaced to homes around the world and faculty are being asked to rapidly shift their classroom courses to untested online environments, our entire Stanford community has been challenged to consider how we can best meet this moment with understanding, agility, and grace. Within this context, I hope the information below offers greater clarity around why the Senate reached its conclusive resolution.

The Faculty Senate spent nearly four hours examining Stanford’s grading policy for Spring Quarter in a special session held online. The proposed changes came from the Academic Continuity Group chaired by Professor Sarah Church, based on input from faculty members and the evolving COVID-19 situation. Prior to the Senate meeting they were discussed and voted on by C-USP and C-GS, the Senate committees tasked with considering undergraduate and graduate policy, respectively, and they were presented to the Senate by the chairs of those committees, Professor Adam Banks (C-USP) and Professor Gary Shaw (C-GS). In addition, a proposal from the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) was presented by ASSU representatives Erica Scott and Isaiah Drummond.

Among the key points of consideration during the discussion:

  • ensuring education equity, given that some students, especially those within our most vulnerable communities, may have limited access to broadband connection or find themselves in challenging home environments ill-suited for learning and quiet study
  • the unpredictable nature of how any number of courses may translate in a virtual format
  • embracing a primary focus on learning rather than traditional course assessment
  • the extra pressures on student mental health during an indefinite period of crisis

The ASSU representatives who spoke at the Faculty Senate meeting made a compelling case that equity considerations—particularly for FLI students and students with disabilities—argued for a change to a A+/A/NC grading basis for spring quarter. This proposal did not resonate with the Senate for a variety of reasons. Many Senators felt that the equity considerations the students had raised were best addressed by the uniform S/NC system and others felt that faculty would be uncomfortable with assigning, for example, an “A” grade to work that might otherwise have received a “C” grade.  

The Faculty Senate also shared a growing concern for the likelihood that a substantial number of students or instructors could become sick, possibly hospitalized, with COVID-19, and that we are best served as a community by removing any unnecessary barriers for successful navigation and completion of spring quarter.

Please know that colleges and universities nationwide are reaching comparable decisions, including Stanford’s peer institutions. Leading medical schools and other graduate and professional schools are acknowledging this new reality, and some have already announced that applicants will not be disadvantaged in the admission process for taking ungraded courses this spring. As a result of the Faculty Senate decision, Stanford will

  • place a notation on student transcripts indicating that emergency grading was in effect for Spring Quarter 2019-20
  • ask faculty to continue to track grades in courses, so that students get feedback on their performance, and faculty can disclose those grades in a reference letter if a student requests it

These distressing, unparalleled times are forcing university communities to quickly adapt to new ways of teaching, learning, working, living, and navigating the stark realities around us. Best wishes to you, your family, and your local community during such a challenging period.

Tim Stearns, Ph.D.
Frank Lee and Carol Hall Professor
Chair, Department of Biology
Chair, Faculty Senate