Duke Universal Pass
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Dear Duke University and President Price,
While we are thankful that you have recently adopted a satisfactory/unsatisfactory system with the option to have graded courses, this is not enough. We believe the ONLY equitable grading policy for the Spring 2020 semester is a Universal Pass system. By adopting a UP system, the College ensures that no student is penalized for factors outside of their control.
Following the formal extension of spring break and suspension of in-person classes for the remainder of the semester, students have been struggling with a wide range of issues concerning access to safe and secure housing, regular meals, internet/computer access, financial support, different time zones, child and eldercare. Students are grappling with these changes while also dealing with the threat of COVID-19.
Due to the shutdown of campus, students no longer have access to vital resources and support networks. Students may not have access to any spaces with computers, as some public libraries have closed or limited available services. Other students may have the only computer in their household and have to share the device with family. With these drastic changes in students’ learning settings and living conditions, a UP system would help alleviate stress on students during this already stressful time.
We ALL deserve the right to continue our academic pursuits and passions this semester without worry of the potential slipping or falling of our grades. A UP system not only benefits students of differing socioeconomic status but the student body as a whole. We believe UP is the most equitable response as it allows students to prioritize their health and safety above all.
With graduate school, medical school, law school, and employers requiring letter grades on transcripts, we request that Duke include a grade of “P” on students’ transcripts with a notation that explains the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We ask that the UP grading system be applied to ALL courses at Duke, including major/minor, distribution, pre-med, and Honors requirements. Further evidence that this is the ONLY equitable solution is that Harvard Medical School recently announced due to the ongoing events, "so that no applicants are disadvantaged by policy decisions made by their colleges/universities as a result of this unprecedented event, HMS will accept pass/fail grading for spring 2020 coursework provided it is the policy of the college/university to only award pass/fail grades."
If other medical schools follow suit, all pre-medical students will be forced to take pre-medical courses for a grade at Duke this semester regardless of their socioeconomic status and access to internet. This means that an opt-in grade system DIRECTLY and PERMANENTLY disadvantages students whose grades will suffer as a result of their socioeconomic status. This decline in grades will certainly fall across socioeconomic lines.
Our request for a UP system stems largely from student advocacy at Yale University (#NoFailYale). The undergraduate student body at Yale has pushed for a UP system for Spring 2020, stating “students would receive credit for their courses and a P on their transcript.” In describing why UP is more equitable than Pass/Fail, Yale students provide the following response: “the optional route discriminates against students who are struggling outside of Yale. Having a difference between pass/fail and letter grades creates a stigma around choosing pass/fail. When employers or grad schools compare students it will seem like students who choose pass/fail are less deserving of the position. That stigma will fall on socioeconomic lines.”
As students of Duke University, we care deeply about our education and are passionate about our coursework. We do not believe that the UP system will inhibit students’ effort in their courses. Rather, it will encourage students to continue to work hard without fear of being penalized for factors outside of their control. By adopting a UP system, the Duke administration demonstrates its commitment to educational equity, student health, and community wellbeing.
We look forward to your response.
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