Spring 2020 grading policy

April 5, 2020

Dear Cornell Undergraduates,

We would like to thank all of you for your impassioned input about the grading policy for the Spring 2020 semester. We are also grateful to faculty, staff, parents, the Student Assembly, the Faculty Senate and university leadership for carefully considering the policy and offering valuable perspectives. The wide-ranging views and thousands of personal stories we have heard make clear that although we are unified by our shared loss of normalcy, experiences of unprecedented uncertainty and concern for others, what students need at this time varies dramatically. We heard from some of you that being able to take your courses on an S/U grading basis would help you to cope; from others that being able to decide what is best is precisely what you need when you feel powerless in the face of unprecedented events; and from many who question the fairness and accuracy of giving a letter grade during those events. We also understand that the importance of being able to earn letter grades varies based on the stage of your college careers, prior setbacks that you may be trying to overcome, the grades you have earned thus far in the semester and your current life circumstances.

We have also been closely tracking the admissions policies of graduate and professional programs and have evaluated the regulatory constraints and technical limits associated with changing our grading policy and processes. Cornell and many of its peers have already adjusted their graduate and professional school admissions policies to express that S/U or similar grading options will be accepted from the Spring 2020 semester whether chosen by an individual student or their institutions. While we have decided against mandating a single S/U grading scheme for all students, in response to your input we have decided to extend the period during which you 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 you to make the decisions that are best suited to your situation.

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. Every transcript will include a notation that explains the anomalies associated with the Spring 2020 semester.

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-. And remember that dropping below 12 academic credits may pose difficulties with respect to academic standing and financial aid. Please engage with your college advising office when such choices are considered. Virtual student advising will continue to be available throughout the semester as will other counseling and support services. This week, we will post FAQs on this grading policy modification to the student section of the university’s COVID-19 website. Please continue to check the site for updated information.

We recognize the stress that you are all experiencing and that you may feel unsure about what choices make the most sense for you. We want to do everything we can to alleviate your stress and anxiety. Even though you may feel isolated or physically distant, your advisors are here for you and are available via virtual appointments to help you to think through your options. You may also be concerned about whether faculty will be accommodating when you encounter difficulty or need extra help; please be assured that, perhaps more than ever before, your professors can relate to what you are experiencing as they, too, have lost their routines and been presented with brand new challenges. Faculty are fully aware that time zones, access to reliable internet and environments that are conducive to learning vary between students. We are confident that they will respond with empathy, compassion and flexibility.

We are very excited to reconnect with you when instruction resumes tomorrow, April 6. If you have not already done so, please review the “Tools for Remote Learning” in the student section of the COVID-19 website, and check Canvas for course updates to make sure you are ready. Information about other resources is available on the COVID-19 website, as well as in Vice President Ryan Lombardi’s March 30 message to you.

If you run into any problems that you are unable to resolve at any point in this semester, please contact the office of student services in your college. You can also write to Lisa Nishii, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, at ovpue@cornell.edu.

Please stay safe and take care of yourselves.

With all best wishes to you and your loved ones,

Michael Kotlikoff

Lisa Nishii
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education