After reviewing the results of a survey sent to undergraduate students about possible changes to the grading system, College Council (CC) President Aditya Jhaveri (21C) sent a letter to Emory’s accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), asking them to “retroactively grant passing grades to students who have faced significant challenges or allow for all students to be granted minimum passing grades.”
The letter, addressed to SACSCOC President Belle Wheelan shared the survey results, which revealed that of 2,168 respondents, 1,300 said their home life has significantly impacted their academic performance and 1,110 respondents felt that remote learning has contributed to the deterioration of their mental health.
Jhaveri also emailed Emory administrators on April 24 on behalf of CC requesting that the deadline to change grading procedures be extended until after final grades are assigned by professors. The letter and the email were written coterminously along with a more than 20-page report of a CC survey about student preferences for course grading systems.
“We hope that [the] Emory administration does something, but I really can’t promise anything,” Jhaveri said. “I do think that admin is doing all that they can … but we have to take the position that we are taking so we can best support students, based on over 500 comments that show dissatisfaction in the current grading structure.”
The letter also cites the Middle States Commission on Higher Education allowing universal grading systems as an example of where accrediting bodies have understood the concerns of a university and met them.
“We understand that the whole burden is not on Emory … there is also that burden based on accreditation and specifically for the accreditation system that Emory is under,” Jhaveri said. “We’ve inquired and requested [SACSCOC] to give more flexibility to Emory because it is not unprecedented, other accreditation bodies are already doing that and we are in [a] pandemic – it is okay to be flexible and understand where universities are coming from.”
Emory College Dean Michael Elliott said at an April 22 CC meeting that he is confident in the College’s current grading system, where students have the option to change their grading designation to pass-fail until April 27. After the deadline, students can change their grading basis by submitting a request that will be evaluated very “leniently,” Elliott stated.
The Office of Undergraduate Education wrote in an April 24 email that it will approve most requests,, the deadline being May 11 for graduating students and May 18 for all other students. The email also stated that graduate and professional schools will “fully understand” the difficulties students face from the pandemic.
Jhaveri said that although providing students the ability to petition for a grade change will be helpful, the University did not communicate its benefits enough to help students. The deadline to change grades should be extended, Jhaveri said, rather than require students to petition after the deadline, a process which many students “don’t understand.”
“There is going to a [certain] perception around the fact that it is a petition – that people have to provide information and that the burden is on the student, rather than the university providing support,” Jhaveri said.
The survey results show that a statistically significant amount of low-income and first-generation students prefer universal pass-fail over the current optional pass-fail structure, and that those who don’t identify as low-income or first-generation prefer the system to stay the same. This trend existed both in the entire population of survey respondents, and within each of Emory’s schools that were surveyed, with exception to the Nursing School that only received a statistically insignificant, two responses.
Of the 491 first-generation survey respondents, 45.4% said that they are currently in either “poor” (168) or “very poor” (55) living situations. For the 657 low-income respondents, 44.4% said that they are living in “poor” (223) or “very poor” (69) conditions.
CC also broke down the 419 open-ended comments available in the latter half of the survey and reported that 165 students’ “responses highlight an overwhelming need for a more equitable option.”
Jhaveri said during the April 22 meeting that though he, like many students, is uncertain that the survey will bring systemic change, the data significantly shows “support toward certain grading systems and [shows] how certain communities have been disproportionately affected.”
In addition to the survey statistics and the letter to SACSCOC concerning grading systems, CC will continue surveying students on topics, like the cancellation of summer courses, to better advocate for students in the University’s response to the pandemic.