Thanks to the many of you who reached out to share your opinions and suggestions on the question of our grading policy for Spring 2020. As I’ve stated previously, your comments were uniformly constructive and thoughtful, and they’ve been genuinely helpful to our deliberations. As your comments have made clear, there are numerous legitimate, even compelling interests at stake, implicating scholarships, employment prospects, opportunities for journal membership, and more. And the decision has been made more complex by the fact that the equities point in more than one direction.
With the benefit of your input, and after extensive consultation, I am writing to share the Law School’s grading policy for Spring 2020:
- Mandatory Pass/Fail: In light of the extraordinary and as yet not fully determined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Law School is suspending its normal grading policy and substituting a policy requiring all students to be graded on a mandatory Pass/Fail system for the Spring 2020 semester. This means that students in all classes would receive a grade of High Pass, Pass, or Fail for their Spring 2020 coursework, whether based on an examination, a paper, or performance of skills in an experiential course.
- The designation of “High Pass” (HP) is intended to denote exceptional performance and will be capped at 15% of grades in any course subject to the Law School’s mandatory curve. The cap may be waived with the approval of the Vice Dean for Academic Affairs based on a written explanation by the professor of the justification. The cap does not apply to courses that are not subject to the Law School’s mandatory curve.
- A grade of “Pass” denotes successful completion of the course with credit. There is no cap on the number of “Pass” grades that may be assigned in any course. Grades of “HP” and “P” are not factored into a student’s GPA.
- A grade of “Fail,” as in the Law School’s regular grading policy, indicates that the student failed the course and will receive no academic credit. A grade of “F” will be factored into a student’s cumulative GPA.
- Grades in Year-Long Courses: First-year students enrolled in Legal Research and Writing will receive a single grade of “HP,” “P” or “F” for the academic year. Students enrolled in year-long clinics or other courses may be assigned a regular letter grade (A, B, C, D, F) for their work in the Fall 2019 semester; their work in the Spring 2020 semester will be graded under the mandatory P/F system described above.
- Determinations of Class Rank: No class rank will be assigned to 1L students at the conclusion of this academic year. Upper-class students will be continue to be ranked, as now, on the basis of their cumulative GPA.
- Effect on Scholarship Retention and Recovery: Determinations of whether students holding merit-based scholarships have attained the cumulative GPA targets necessary to retain or recover their scholarships, ordinarily conducted in May, will be deferred until January 2021, so that Fall 2020 grades may be considered in lieu of Spring 2020 grades. As a result, students holding such scholarships will automatically retain them, at their current amounts, for the Fall 2020 semester. Students failing to attain prescribed GPA targets at that point will have their scholarships reduced prospectively beginning with the Spring 2021 semester. Rising 3L students (current 2Ls) who have previously had their scholarships reduced on the basis of 1L grades and who attain the GPA targets qualifying them to recover their original scholarships will have their original scholarships restored in January 2021 retroactively to cover the entire 2020-2021 academic year.
- Effect on Honors & Journals: For 1Ls, we anticipate that adjustments will be made to the usual selection mechanisms for participation in journals in light of this policy. For 3Ls, we will reevaluate the usual GPA cut-offs for determining Latin honors at graduation (i.e., summa cum laude, magna cum laude, cum laude) to address any risk that the exceptional circumstances of this semester would have caused a graduate to narrowly miss the mark for honors.
- Exclusions: This grading policy DOES NOT APPLY to the mini courses which were completed earlier in the semester and already have grades posted (MINI6420-01, MINI6450-01, MINI6610-01), nor to any courses for the online Master of Jurisprudence program (EMPL courses). Those will remain with the standard grade type. It also does not include the dissertation research (LAWS9990-01 and GDEV9990-01) for the doctoral candidates (SJD and PhD). Those courses will remain with the research designation.
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In light of the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the switch to a mandatory Pass/Fail grading policy for the Spring 2020 semester, we are implementing further adjustments to our usual academic policies for this semester only, as outlined below:
1) Extending the Deadline to Withdraw from Courses
Section II.L of the Student Handbook permits students to withdraw from certain upper-class courses without a “W” notation on their transcripts as late as the fourth week in the semester, with permission from the Assistant Dean of Students. For the Spring 2020 semester only, we will extend that deadline until Monday, April 13 (the first class day after Spring Break). This will give students an opportunity to reassess their course loads in light of their new circumstances, including any challenges they may now face in completing academic requirements. (This extended deadline does not apply to 1L courses or those upper-level courses not covered by section II.L of the Handbook.)
2) Remote Exam Format & Administration
Remote administration of exams this semester will require an adjustment in previously scheduled exam times and format. With students now scattered across the globe, giving a timed exam in the originally scheduled time block would effectively require students to take exams at vastly different hours of the day and night, including for some in the middle of the night.
Therefore, this semester exams will continue to be administered on the day on which they were originally scheduled, but students will not be required to start and complete the exam at the specific hours originally assigned. Faculty may still elect to limit the time allowed for students to complete the exam to the originally scheduled time (e.g., three hours for a three-credit course). But students will be permitted to start the exam at any hour on the scheduled day and the allotted time for the exam will begin to run from the moment they first access the exam. The exam software will monitor the time and will automatically end the exam when the student reaches the allotted time indicated for that particular examination.
For professors who have previously announced or are planning to give take-home exams, we will by default give students an extended window of time (e.g., eight hours) during which to complete this exam. This will allow all students an equal opportunity to start and complete the exam within the 24-hour period allocated for the exam without regard to the time zone in which they are located. This will also give students the ability to schedule down time between take-home exams. Of course, recognizing that students may have multiple take-home exams this semester, professors have been advised to design their exams to be capable of completion within a regularly scheduled in-class exam time (e.g., three hours), no matter how much time students are allowed. We have also encouraged faculty to consider imposing word limits on exam answers, particularly for take-home exams.
Faculty have also been strongly counseled to reexamine their exam format in light of the disparate conditions under which students will be taking the exam. We anticipate that most, if not all, faculty will choose to use open-book, essay-format exams. Faculty will communicate to their students the revised plans for their exam format so that students may plan accordingly.
If you have questions about the exam format announced by faculty in your classes, please approach your professor first with any clarifying questions. Of course, Dean Gaunt will continue to serve as a resource for any students with questions about accommodations. And students who need to reschedule examinations due to exam conflicts may contact Academic Services at email@example.com.
Thank you once again for all your patience and understanding as we’ve navigated the adjustments necessitated by our extraordinary times. I hope you and your families are well.
David D. Meyer
Dean and Mitchell Franklin Professor of Law
Tulane University Law School
6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70118