July 2, 2020 - Fall Grading Policy

To our students,

I hope that you and your families are well and safe in this difficult time. I know that the plan for the fall that I announced on June 22 is disappointing for many of you—you want to return to campus and we very much want you back. I apologize for this disappointment and for the stress that it has caused. As you know, the plan is motivated by two central goals: protecting your health and safety and that of our faculty, staff, and neighbors, and providing every one of you with an excellent education in the fall.  With this second goal in mind, and as I described in the June 22 announcement, we concluded that the best way to ensure an excellent education was through a single method of delivery—online. This decision naturally raised questions, many of which have been answered in the FAQ. We will continue to address others. To that end, next Thursday, July 9, Jennifer Scanlon, our dean for academic affairs, Professor Rick Broene, chair of the Continuity in Teaching and Learning Group, and Michael Cato, our chief information officer, will hold a webinar on the fall academic program for students and parents. Details on the webinar will be provided before long.

I am writing this morning to provide you with guidance on our grading model for the fall and a sense for the careful deliberations that informed this decision. The College will return to a standard letter grading policy with some modifications that will provide you with flexibility in the online learning environment and, for many, a nonresidential semester in the fall. 

As many of you know, in the spring of 2020, following the novel coronavirus emergency and the College’s switch to remote learning in the middle of the semester, our Committee on Governance and Faculty Affairs (GFA) and the dean for academic affairs recommended, and I concurred, that rather than a standard grading system, the College would employ a credit/no-credit system for all grading for Spring 2020. This temporary, one-semester policy expired at the end of the spring semester.

Last month, GFA convened a meeting with our faculty Committee on Educational Policy (CEP), to launch a discussion of how to approach grading for the coming academic year. CEP’s subsequent deliberations included exploring the difference between a planned online fall semester and last spring’s “emergency” semester; some of the concerns faculty and students alike have about our practices of and reliance on grading, and the relationship between these concerns and issues of equity; the recommendations of the Continuity in Teaching and Learning Group’s Report for inclusive online teaching for the next academic year; the necessity of significant faculty engagement in substantial changes to our grading system; and the additional ways the College will support students in the fall. CEP consulted with staff members in student affairs and considered a paper and letters from individual students recommending both for and against the renewal of the standard grading system as well as a petition advocating for a credit/no-credit system for all fall courses, signed by more than 400 students. Additionally, CEP recognized that, given that students will have different residential and course-related experiences in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, a uniform grading system would need to be put in place for the 2020–2021 academic year. An ungraded academic year would result in Bowdoin students having three semesters (or four, for rising seniors who studied away in the fall of their junior year) without grades.

Even though the college experience has not returned to normal, CEP concluded that a return to standard grading is necessary for the 2020–2021 academic year. The dean and I agree with this conclusion. Recognizing that students may encounter COVID-19 challenges, CEP recommends, and the dean and I will implement, several temporary grade-related policy changes for the fall semester, as outlined below. 

Fall 2020 Policy Changes as Recommended by CEP

  • Credit/D/Fail: Normally, Credit/D/Fail is an option that students may choose by the sixth week of the semester, for one course in a full load of four, and for up to four courses total. For Fall 2020 this will be expanded, as follows:

    • Make the Credit/D/Fail grade mode available for students to choose until the day before Thanksgiving break begins (Tuesday, November 24, at 5:00 p.m.). Additional time to choose this option recognizes that students may encounter difficulties related to the public health and online learning context at any point in the semester, no matter how much effort they have been putting into their coursework.
    • Students may choose one course Credit/D/F with a full load of four credits, and this will not count against their career total of four.
    • As is standard policy, students may not choose the Credit/D/Fail mode for first-year writing seminars, distribution and division requirements, and in most cases, major and minor requirements. It is beyond CEP’s purview to recommend changing these prohibitions without input from the faculty; however, in light of the current context, CEP will ask GFA for time in a faculty meeting early in the fall semester to discuss potential changes to these institutional policies on a temporary basis, and CEP will ask departments and programs this summer to consider whether any of their required courses might be taken Credit/D/Fail for current Bowdoin students.
    • From week seven to eleven (Wednesday, October 21, to Tuesday, November 24), all students carrying four credits or more who have already chosen to take one course Credit/D/Fail will be able to choose to take a second course Credit/D/Fail, and it will not count against the student's career total of four Credit/D/Fail courses. Students will initiate this request via a form that must be approved by the instructor of the course, the student’s advisor, and the student’s dean. 
  • Limits on a Fifth Full Course: Students will be allowed to add a fifth full credit, but only during Add/Drop II in the fall semester and only with advisor permission. Given the findings that taking four online courses is already a heavy load and will be a new challenge from taking four in-person courses, this will serve as a precaution against students overloading courses and will also help to ensure that all students are able to enroll in the courses they need. 

The following policies are already available to students and will continue unchanged. We note these as existing supports/options for students:

  • Add/Drop: Students may drop courses without permission during the first two weeks of the semester.
  • Incomplete: In unavoidable circumstances (e.g., personal illness, family emergency, etc.) and with approval of the student’s dean and the instructor, a grade of Incomplete may be recorded. An Incomplete represents a formal agreement among the instructor, a dean, and the student for the submission of unfinished coursework under prescribed conditions. Students must initiate their request for an Incomplete on or before the last day of classes on December 11 by contacting their student dean.
CEP and the dean plan to monitor these temporary policy adjustments in the fall semester to be sure that they are functioning as intended and in consultation with faculty committees, relevant administrative staff, and the faculty as a whole to determine whether further changes are necessary. 

I know that this is an enormously challenging time for each of you, made more so by the physical separation from the College, from one another, and from your faculty and College staff. Everyone here is eager to help you navigate this moment with success, and there is a rich array of resources available to you at Bowdoin. Please reach out if you have questions, issues, or simply want to talk.

All the best,