Grading debate stretches on as faculty consider mandatory credit/no credit system

By RAIN JI

SHIRLEY MAO
Today’s Faculty Council meeting took place on Zoom and was attended by 250 participants. It was the first faculty meeting since the college suspended in-person classes last month.

Update as of Sunday, April 12: This article has been updated to include an embedded version of the faculty proposal, which was shared with The Campus this weekend. The faculty who are organizing the proposal have also created an FAQ, which can be found here.

Faculty members motioned to change Middlebury’s current grading policy to a mandatory credit/no-credit system this morning at the first faculty meeting since the college suspended in-person classes. Faculty will vote to either approve or deny the motion at a meeting next Friday, April 17. 

If the faculty votes to approve the proposal in a majority vote, a mandatory credit/no credit grading policy will be put in place for the spring term, according to Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty Sujata Moorti. 

The meeting, which was held over Zoom, saw roughly 250 members of the faculty in attendance. Professor of Mathematics Priscilla Bremser submitted the motion to enact the credit/no credit grading system, which was co-written by Professor of Film & Media Culture Jason Mittell and co-signed by 19 other faculty members. 

The grading system proposed in Bremser’s motion bears similarities to the “Universal Pass/Fail” model adopted by other universities and advocated for by some students at Middlebury, but deviates from that system in that it would not factor a “0” into students’ GPAs in the event they earn “no credit.” Dartmouth College and Carleton College have adopted similar credit/no-credit models for this semester, the latter of which followed an endorsement of the model by its school’s student government.

Under the system outlined by Bremser’s motion, courses this semester would not count toward the registrar’s limit of two non-traditionally graded courses per student, and would still be counted for major and distribution requirements. “No credit” grades would not factor into students’ academic probation status. 

“We have no idea how Covid-19 will directly affect specific students and their families, but it will do so unevenly,” Bremser wrote in her motion. The motion explains that a mandatory “binary grading system” will be equitable for all students. 

She pointed out that faculty members are also subject to the stress brought on by Covid-19, emphasizing the greater impact this may have on junior professors who might feel pressure from students to maintain high grades and from their colleagues to maintain a certain rigor in the classroom.

“I am grateful to the administration for taking the Covid-19 pandemic seriously early on, at the same time, a fundamental principle of college governance is that the faculty has responsibility for academic policy,” Bremser wrote in an an email to The Campus, reflecting on the administration’s earlier announcement that the college will maintain its current opt-in grading policy.

That announcement came in the wake of widespread student conversations regarding the college’s original decision about grading policy, which it announced the week after most students were sent home. The ad hoc academic continuity group, comprising five faculty members and five faculty administrators, made the decision.

The Faculty Council determined that Bremser’s proposal is considered major academic policy. Thus, according to faculty meeting rules, this proposal must be introduced at one meeting and voted on at a later date. 

Faculty will have an open meeting next Tuesday for further discussion on the topic, and the vote will be held next Friday. 

Bremser is confident that this proposal will be deliberated by her colleagues, both professors and administrators, with the educational mission of the college at heart. “One great thing about teaching at Middlebury is that student learning is central to what we do,” she wrote. 

At the meeting, attendees also ratified other academic decisions the administration has made for this semester, on the basis that academic jurisdiction usually falls to the faculty. This motion included shortening the semester by a week and moving all instruction online, and was ratified with 98% of voting faculty in favor.

Editor’s note: Professor Jason Mittell is the The Campus’s faculty adviser. Any questions may be directed to [email protected].