In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, all classes will be moved to a pass/fail grading system and classes will be canceled for the three days following spring break, according to an email from University President Lee Bollinger sent to University affiliates on March 20. Students will not be able to opt out or uncover their grades at the end of the semester.
President Sian Beilock released an email shortly after assuring that Barnard would follow the same grading policy and class schedule as Columbia.
Last week, Columbia announced that it would officially be moving to online course instruction for the remainder of the semester. Professors have since held lectures, discussion sections, seminars, and office hours over the online streaming platform Zoom to audiences of students located in numerous time zones and in numerous countries. In response to the adjustment, certain faculty have altered their teaching methods, choosing to cancel exams or discussion sections altogether.
The move to universal pass/fail, which is usually not allowed for classes counted toward one’s major, concentration, or Core requirements, comes following a move by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Smith College toward similar alternative grading scales. Though students typically may not apply courses they choose to pass/fail toward their major requirements, all courses taken this semester will count.
“This, of course, does not reflect a reduction in expectations, but rather an acknowledgement of the severe complications of this unusual moment,” Bollinger wrote in his email.
Columbia’s announcement comes after the circulation of a petition by Columbia students advocating for opt-in pass/fail grading. The petition raised significant concerns about the feasibility of equitably evaluating students’ abilities as well as the quality of learning, given that students are now spread across time zones and may face difficulties accessing the internet, finding quiet study spaces, balancing family responsibilities, and dealing with the stress of the COVID-19 outbreak. The petition requested an opt-in option, as some students need letter grades for law and medical school applications.
According to the email, all classes except clinical education at the medical campus will also be postponed for three days in order to “give everyone a little more time to prepare to resume classes.” Classes will resume online on March 26.