University to Offer Students Pass/Fail Grades for the Semester


For the spring semester, all letter grades awarded by professors will be converted to a pass/fail (P/X) grade and students will have the option of which appears on their transcript, Dean of the Faculty Tracey Hucks ’87 announced in an email to students earlier today. Students will be allowed to see both grading marks before making a decision on a course-by-course basis. This change comes in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic and the university’s decision to send students home and move to online instruction. The historic decision has been made only once before in Colgate’s 200 years.

All previous restrictions on electing to take a course P/X are lifted for this semester. Typically, P/X courses do not count towards a student’s major or minor or towards meeting their Core or distributional requirements. Hucks said in the email that these adjustments to the grading system will be explained on student transcriptions.

Graduating seniors must alert the Registrar’s Office of their decisions by 8 p.m. EST on May 13, 2020. All other students must no later than May 26, 2020. If no choice is indicated by a student, their grade will be recorded as P/X.

“This grade mode is distinct from the S/U as it is for all courses without restriction, and will allow students to continue to make progress towards their degree with any passing grade, as opposed to the C- threshold required for the S/U grade mode. All transcripts issued by the University include a key, which will be updated to reflect the use of P/X in the Spring 2020 term,” Hucks said in the email.

Hucks acknowledged challenges facing students and the learning process under current circumstances, including health and welfare, access to internet and technology, access to quiet workspaces and varying time zones. As professors adapt their pedagogy for remote learning, the grading system has also shifted to address the current circumstances.

Hucks mentioned that Colgate utilized this grading process once before in 1970 in response to large portions of the student body boycotting class in protest of America’s involvement in Cambodia and Vietnam. The Colgate Maroon reported that between 1,200 and 1,500 Colgate students did not attend class on the first day of a nationwide strike on May 6, 1970. A key demand of the Colgate protests was the resignation of then-Secretary of State William Rogers ‘34 from the Colgate Board of Trustees. The university instituted the option to accept either an “incomplete” or a P/X grade, including courses counting toward Core and their concentration of study, to “those students, who on the grounds of conscience, do not complete their 1970 spring semester course work.”

Senior Sabrina Torrado sees the new grading system as the best-case scenario under the current global and academic situations.

“I’m definitely happy with this decision, it gives students the chance to try and make the best of the situation and test out how online classes work but takes the pressure off trying to do really well when circumstances may not allow that,” Torrado said.

Junior Genevieve McCarthy, though, said the school could have completed the semester with letter grades and said she feels cautious about certain aspects of P/X. McCarthy spent last semester studying abroad on an Approved Program in Madrid, Spain, receiving transfer credit without a GPA for the fall.

“Pass/fail won’t be as good of an option for juniors that went on Approved Programs because they won’t have had a grade in their GPA since sophomore year. Since Colgate has small classes and the professors really know you, we should be able to expect them to adjust their standards accordingly. Whether they mark it pass/fail or not, they still will have to do the difficult part of completing the class, which professors should try to make more manageable from the get-go, so it’s not only those in the class that had an easy transition to at-home learning that end up factoring in their grades,” McCarthy said.

On Tuesday, senior Tom Rappleye created a petition asking the school to allow students a P/X option for the semester, which had received nearly 400 signatures by the time Hucks announced the official decision. The petition was addressed in a letter form to President Brian Casey, citing universities such as Middlebury College, Carnegie Mellon University and Syracuse University for allowing students this option. The petition also makes reference to Columbia University, MIT and Duke University, all of which have enforced that all students take their classes P/X.

“Ultimately, we believe that giving Colgate students this option would relieve a great deal of stress and would be the best way to handle the transition to online courses,” The petition reads. “Face to face interactions are a key part of college courses and to grade us without these interactions seems unfair. Also, since many of our peers are doing the same it would not cause any problems with regards to our reputation for academic rigor.”

Hucks said that for students who were enrolled in a non-Colgate Approved Program abroad this semester, the Registrar will now accept “fractional credits as transfer credit provided the host institution can provide an official transcript with this course listed and credit hours assigned,” though many approved programs have offered Colgate students online courses to finish the semester.

This decision was made by Colgate’s Academic Affairs Board (AAB) in their meeting earlier in the day on Wednesday, March 25. The AAB is chaired by the Dean of Faculty. The rest of the body is made up of students, staff, faculty and administrators.

Co-Presidents of the Student Government Association Kate Bundy and Chris Johns are non-voting members of the AAB. Bundy said while they could not vote, she believes Dean Hucks and other voting members were keen to listen and incorporate their input as representative of the student body into the final decision.

“I think this struck a great balance! I understand students will probably still have a lot of questions which is totally understandable and all I can say to that is we want to help. Please reach out to SGA, the  academic deans, or really any other resource for anything you might need!” Bundy said.

Hucks also announced in the email changes to the course registration schedule.

Course registration for the Fall 2020 semester that was originally scheduled for April 13, 14 and 15 will now be held on April 20, 21 and 22. Registration time slots will now start two hours earlier than previously listed. The Registrar’s Office will be providing more information in the coming days regarding the changes and access to their services while off-campus.