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No more grades: it's pass or fail as Harvard and other top schools roll out online teaching

Mar 24 2020 17:46

Several top US law schools, including Harvard, Stanford and Columbia, are ditching most grades as classes move online and students move off-campus in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Columbia Law School Dean Gillian Lester sent a letter to students Friday saying they would only receive pass or fail marks for the spring semester. Cornell, Boston College and Berkeley are also temporarily adopting pass/fail grading, while Notre Dame, Arizona State, University of Minnesota and New York University are considering it.

The reason is fairness, Lester said in her letter. Like most universities, Columbia has sent most students home. Off-campus, some students may have less access than others to technology and health care or may otherwise face difficult circumstances that could hinder their academic performance.

That could then harm their career prospects, as grades have traditionally played a major role in determining which students land top law firm jobs or prestigious judicial clerkships.

"For reasons that are wholly arbitrary, the burdens on some will be heavier than on others," Lester wrote. Removing most grades would help create a "level playing field".

Though Columbia mandated pass/fail for all students, Harvard initially decided to offer it as an option, allowing students to receive normal grades if they preferred. That prompted an outcry from hundreds of students who said letting some elect normal grades would signal employers that those who opted for pass/fail chose an easier path.

Harvard emailed law students Friday to say it had decided to adopt mandatory pass/fail marks for the spring semester, the Harvard Crimson reported.

One potential employer, law firm Hogan Lovells, appeared to react to the moves Friday by issuing a statement reassuring students that it believed "academic performance is just one of many indicators of potential".



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