Faculty votes to extend Pass/Fail deadline for future years

Irene Loewenson

The faculty voted at its Feb. 16 meeting to make permanent this year’s more permissive Pass/Fail policy, which allows students to designate courses Pass/Fail after seeing their final grades in their courses.

Last year, the faculty voted to extend the Pass/Fail deadline for the 2021–2022 academic year from the end of the 10th week of the semester to the week after grades are released. The rationale was to give students more flexibility as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic poses challenges like isolations, illness, and occasional hybrid or remote classes. With last week’s vote, however, the policy will extend beyond the pandemic.

The Committee on Educational Affairs (CEA) — which put forward the motion and is composed of seven faculty members, five staff members, and six students — wrote in its proposal that the extended deadline would “give students more time and relevant information with which to decide about taking an eligible course Pass/Fail.”

“It will help them better manage academic difficulties that may occur late in the semester,” the committee wrote. “It may relieve stress for students grappling with this decision.”

The CEA acknowledged in its proposal that some faculty members were concerned that the extended deadline would encourage students to slack off at the end of the semester. But, according to the proposal, students on the CEA said they were “confident that the extended deadline will lead students to continue devoting time, care, and thoughtfulness to their coursework through the end of the term.”

“With the current P/F deadline being the 10th week of classes, students who decided to P/F at this point would more likely lose motivation to put effort into courses, since in the end they know that the decision to P/F has already been decided and their goal has shifted from ‘doing as well as possible’ to just ‘passing,’” student chair of the CEA Huy Pham ’22 wrote in an email to the Record. “However, if students don’t have to finalize the P/F decision until grades are due, there’s a greater incentive to keep trying hard and to keep on persisting despite whatever challenges they may currently be facing because there’s always the hope and the possibility that they end up doing better than they had initially expected.”

Pham added that the CEA hopes the ability to Pass/Fail a class retroactively will reduce the number of courses students take Pass/Fail, since students may find themselves doing better in classes than they had expected mid-semester. Pass/Fail courses typically do not count toward major requirements, unless a course is the first one a student has taken in that department or toward divisional requirements.

The motion passed with a lack of friction — somewhat unusual for faculty meetings, where discussions of academic policies can grow contentious. When CEA chair and Professor of Political Science Cathy Johnson, who proposed the motion, opened the floor to comments and questions from other faculty, no one spoke up. The motion was quickly put to a vote, and it passed easily, with 75 voting in favor, 15 voting against, and seven abstaining.

Karla Cabrera ’25 told the Record that she supports the faculty’s decision to extend the Pass/Fail deadline.

“It could be really valuable, especially for giving students more peace of mind about their classes … as opposed to making students feel like they’re trapped in a class after Week 10,” she said. “I think in the future it’ll probably ease student stress, too, just not having to freak out all the time about your GPA after the Pass/Fail deadline.” She acknowledged, however, that she has never experienced the previous Pass/Fail policy because she is in her first year.

The policy change is the latest in a series of relaxations of Pass/Fail rules over the past several years. Before 2015, Pass/Fail options were much more limited. The traditional Pass/Fail option was available only for fifth courses, and students had to declare a course Pass/Fail by the sixth week of the semester. A student could also twice use the Gaudino Option, which essentially allowed them to Pass/Fail courses after grades were posted — if they earned a minimum of either a B- or a grade 0.67 points below their GPA, whichever was lower, and if the instructor deemed them to have been “intellectually present.”

But the faculty voted in March 2015 to let students take one of their four classes Pass/Fail in up to three semesters and to push back the deadline for declaring classes Pass/Fail from the sixth week to the 10th week. That policy was in place until the COVID pandemic, which has led the College to implement more lenient Pass/Fail rules, including universal Pass/Fail in spring 2020, unlimited Pass/Fail in fall 2020 and spring 2021, and the retroactive Pass/Fail option this year.