| by Jeff Cason, Sujata Moorti, and Suzanne Gurland


Dear Faculty Colleagues,

We are writing to honor the recent lively discussions regarding evaluation of student work for this semester, and to settle firmly where we stand. An almost identical letter is going out to students.

On March 16, we announced a temporary policy on grading for Spring ’20, which said:  “[…] for this spring semester only, you will have the option to take as many of your current courses as you wish on a Pass/D/Fail basis—and these will not count toward the two Pass/D/Fail courses to which you are normally limited. Such Pass/D/Fail courses from this semester will also not count toward the limit of five non-standard grades. Faculty will still report letter grades for all students, and if a student requests Pass/D/Fail, the grades will automatically be converted to a P for grades of C- or higher and recorded as a D or F if those are the grades that are submitted. You will be allowed to invoke Pass/D/Fail grading for any course—including courses that count toward all college requirements—and will have until May 1 to do so. The Registrar’s Office will provide additional details and will make available an electronic form that you can use to invoke the Pass/D/Fail option. Please note: You will not be able to revoke the Pass/D/Fail option once selected, so please make this decision carefully.”

Since then, there has been an inspiring groundswell of emails, petitions, phone calls, and articles in response to the policy, all of which suggest that Middlebury’s student body—true to form, and despite all the turmoil surrounding us—remains committed to critical thinking, active debate, and full engagement with the important issues we face. 

Although we certainly will not be able to revisit and reopen debate on every decision we make in these fast-moving and ever-changing conditions, we have taken time to consider very carefully the arguments put forth by the #NoFailMidd group (subsequently renamed #FairGradesMidd) in favor of a universal pass/fail system; those put forth by the #OptInMidd group in favor of allowing students to choose which courses they will take pass/d/fail; and those put forth by the many individual students who have contacted us with their own reasons for preferring letter grades or not. We have also heard from individual colleagues as you have grappled with how best to assess student work fairly and equitably under these circumstances, and in many cases, have settled upon systems for your own courses that aim to be fair to all and maximally flexible, regardless of student access to technology or personal circumstances. Finally, we have consulted with colleagues in the health professions office, on various elected faculty committees, in the registrar’s office, and at various other colleges.

We have deep respect for all the views we have heard and are grateful to all the students and colleagues who invited us to consider a wide range of perspectives. Every one of these views had fairness and equity as their core principles, and just had different views on how best to achieve them. Each time we considered a potential change to the announced policy, we either weren’t convinced it actually did a better job of achieving equity and fairness, or found that it would create a different, even worse problem. We are therefore maintaining the policy as announced, but with even more flexibility: namely, students will now have until May 8 to invoke Pass/D/Fail, and will have a window of time from May 9 to May 15 in which they can revoke Pass/D/Fail if they choose to. In addition, there will be a notation on students’ transcripts that will convey to outside audiences such as graduate schools and employers that a “P” should be interpreted as a reasonable response to these extraordinary circumstances, and not as indicating diminished rigor. In addition, beyond this general college policy, you as faculty members retain control over your syllabi and assignments and evaluative practices that work best for you and your students. We encourage you to think flexibly about the parameters and timing of assignments as well as the criteria you use for evaluating them. If you wish, consider these thoughts from colleagues on the Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

As we said to students, as well, we applaud the dialog across our “virtual campus” that has explored issues of equity and access, the assumptions we sometimes make about one another, and the reality that sometimes there’s no perfect solution to a difficult problem. Our hope is that this policy provides maximum choice to each individual student, and at the same time, mitigates the effects for those to whom it doesn’t feel like a real choice at all.

Wishing you all good health,

Jeff Cason

Sujata Moorti
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty

Suzanne Gurland
Dean of Curriculum