The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
The University of Michigan has adopted a new grading policy that allows students to “mask” grades — meaning they can hide letter grades from their transcript and exclude them from their grade point average — for the fall and upcoming winter semesters, according to a Friday email from Provost Susan Collins.
Undergraduate students now have the option to change letter grades ranging from an A+ to a C- to “Pass” on their permanent transcripts. Students receiving grades of a D or below would already have received a “No Record COVID” on their transcript under a grading policy change announced in August.
Collins wrote that the University decided to adjust their grading policy because of the added stressors on students due to the pandemic. Public Policy Professor Edward Gramlich co-signed the email.
“We therefore are in a context where many students are managing circumstances that may mean their performance in courses will not accurately reflect their abilities,” Collins and Gramlich wrote. “Furthermore, it is evident that these challenges will affect different populations of students in inequitable ways. Providing students with additional flexibility to alleviate some of the stress around grades this academic year can help students focus on learning, allowing them to demonstrate their understanding and mastery of the material more effectively.”
Students will be able to decide to keep their letter grade or opt for a “Pass” after their final grades are posted. The deadline to mask grades for the fall term is July 1, 2021.
Rackham students will have a similar option and will be able to change their grades ranging from an A+ to a B- to an S for “Satisfactory” on their transcripts.
Once students elect to change their letter grade to a “Pass,” they cannot undo it, the email states.
This change is the reverse of the grading system adopted for the winter 2020 semester when classes abruptly moved online mid-March. Under this system, students who earned a C- or above in a class received a “Pass” on their transcripts, while any grade under a C- receives a “No Record COVID.” Students were given the opportunity to “unmask” any grade they choose, meaning that letter grade appeared on their transcript.
In August, Provost Susan M. Collins announced an alternative undergraduate grading policy for the 2020-2021 school year. This plan said that students who earn grades of A through C will receive the letter grade on their transcripts, while those earning under a C- will receive a “No Record COVID” with the option to unmask the grade. Classes during the spring and summer semesters were graded on the traditional scale.
Since the beginning of the fall semester, students have been advocating for an alternative grading system due to disruptions caused by online learning and the stress of the ongoing pandemic.
Central Student Government, the largest representative assembly at the University, released a statement on Oct. 20 calling on the University to implement a P/NRC grading system and a week of no exams or other high-stakes during the winter 2021 semester to make up for not having a spring break. These demands were made in response to the two-week stay-in-place order for undergraduate students, which forced some in-person classes to move online for the remainder of the semester.
“Students are already experiencing added stressors and mental health concerns due to extra coursework, personal and financial stress, a contentious election season, and more,” CSG President Amanda Kaplan and Vice President Saveri Nandigama wrote in a statement. “The new changes to our campus life and academic semester will only exacerbate these effects.”
On Oct. 27, the Association of Big Ten Students, a group composed of student body presidents from each of the Big Ten schools, echoed CSG’s statement in calling for all of the schools’ administrations to adopt a pass/fail grading system this semester.
The University’s plan for the winter semester includes two “well-being” breaks on Feb. 24 and March 23 after students said the lack of fall or spring breaks added to their anxiety about an already challenging semester.
LSA senior Cameron Roehm, working alongside Kaplan and Nandigama, started a petition last month to urge the University to adopt a P/NRC grading policy. The petition, which notes schools like the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Virginia that have already transitioned to a more flexible grading policy for this semester, called on the University to recognize that students are facing significant hardships due to the pandemic and remote coursework.
“The current COVID-19 pandemic presents substantial mental and physical health challenges for students and their families which letter grades will only exacerbate further,” the petition reads.
In an interview with The Daily on Monday, University President Mark Schlissel said the University was trying to balance students’ desire for an optional P/NRC grading system with the need for students’ transcripts to reflect their academic abilities.
“None of you or us chose to have part of your college experience turned upside down by living through a pandemic,” Schlissel said. “What we’re trying to do is minimize the adverse impact of that on your ability to go through school to learn what you need to, to develop a CV and transcript that will prove what you learned.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.