Spring 2020 grading policy

April 5, 2020

We are sure that many of you have been the recipient of communications from students expressing concern about the undergraduate grading policy for the Spring 2020 semester. The issue was also considered by the Faculty Senate and the Student Assembly, and university leadership has taken these views into consideration. We have also been closely tracking the admissions policies of graduate and professional programs and have evaluated the regulatory constraints associated with accreditation and technical limitations of changing our PeopleSoft system to accommodate these ideas. Briefly, we have decided against mandating a single S/U grading scheme for all students. However, in response to student and faculty input, we have decided to extend the period during which students may choose whether or not to opt-in to S/U so as to provide the maximum amount of flexibility possible, without penalty, to empower students to make the decisions that are best suited to their situations. We will be communicating this decision to undergraduate students this afternoon.

The Spring 2020 Grade Option Policy
Undergraduates will have until May 12, the last day of instruction, to drop a course without a W or change the grading basis of a course to S/U. This applies to any full Spring 2020 semester course, including courses that did not previously offer an S/U grading option, as well as 7-week courses offered in the second half of the semester. Between May 12 and May 23, the last day of the semester, students can still drop any of their courses with a W and petition to change the grading basis to S/U.

Courses in which a grade of S is earned will count toward entering and meeting major and minor requirements and satisfy college requirements for good standing and graduation. Credits taken as S/U this semester will be excluded from the maximum allowable S/U credits toward major or graduation requirements. As always, grades of S/U are not given grade point values. Note that the S/U option is not the same as a Pass/Fail Option; the S/U threshold for successfully completing and earning credit for a course is a minimum grade of C-. 

Here are other things you should know to guide students who may have questions about this policy:

  • Virtual student advising will continue to be available throughout the semester, as will other counseling and support services. In particular, students should engage with their college advising office if they're considering dropping below 12 academic credits, which can create difficulties for both academic standing and financial aid.
  • Every Cornell student's transcript will include the following notation: "During the Spring 2020 semester, the COVID-19 pandemic required significant changes to coursework. Unusual enrollment patterns and grades reflect the tumult of the time, not necessarily the work of the individual.
  • This week, we will post FAQs on this grading policy modification on the university's COVID-19 website. Please continue to check the site for updated information.

The impassioned grading policy discussion is yet another indication of the stress that we all, but particularly our students, are experiencing in this unprecedented period. We know that you will do everything you can to alleviate this stress and anxiety in your interactions with students and are confident that you will respond to this crisis with the empathy, compassion and flexibility that you have shown to date.

Thank you for all that you are doing to adjust your pedagogy in creative and thoughtful ways. Cornell faculty have risen to this challenge with amazing energy and passion, and we look forward to congratulating you in person in safer times.


Michael Kotlikoff

Lisa Nishii
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education