This Isn’t a Normal Semester, We Shouldn’t Have Normal Grading

A universal ‘Pass/Fail’ policy for all Spring 2020 courses across the NYU global network levels the now uneven academic playing field and would benefit the greatest number of students. Serious consideration should be taken by the NYU administration of taking after schools like MIT and Smith College and making all courses for the remainder of the semester graded on a ‘Pass/Fail’ basis across the global network. If this is not possible, a policy that resembles New York’s ‘Pass/Fail’ policy for this semester should be taken on by Shanghai.


Given the chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, universities across the United States have opted to become more liberal with their ‘Pass/Fail’ policies, with some implementing temporary universal ‘Pass/Fail’ grading policies. By doing this, universities ensure that students’ GPAs are preserved and that those who may have to take their entire semester on a ‘Pass/Fail’ basis due to extenuating circumstances are not excessively penalized by having credits or prerequisites revoked. Alongside this, students may be unfairly scrutinized in graduate school or job applications if a university wide ‘Pass/Fail’ standard is not set as the norm for this semester. Simply put, a universal ‘Pass/Fail’ grading system would level a playing field that has become inherently unequal due to unprecedented academic disruptions around the globe. 

I, and I believe a large portion of the student population, support NYU following MIT’s and a growing number of other universities’ leads and instilling a universal ‘Pass/Fail’ grading policy for the Spring 2020 semester across all NYU campuses. Under this policy, there would be no letter grades and all courses would count for major/minor credit and cover prerequisites, assuming the student passes. If all courses are passed, then a student’s GPA would remain stagnant from their fall 2020 semester. 


First, due to the extreme circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have been left scrambling for housing, with NYU New York making last-minute decisions in its housing policy and evicting students from their dorms during spring break. Students may also be returning to housing situations where they have poor internet access or have to pick up extra responsibilities, such as childcare or providing extra income for their households. Because of this, the academic playing field has become incredibly unequal, and students who now must take courses as ‘Pass/Fail’ due to circumstances out of their control, will be judged against students who have not been subjected to the same variables when applying for programs that require transcripts. If all courses are made ‘Pass/Fail,’ this inequality is eliminated as all NYU students will be in the same situation. 

Second, a universal ‘Pass/Fail’ policy would ensure that NYU students’ degree progress goes unhindered during these trying times. In a poll taken via Google Survey and sent through class group chats, 58 out of 187 respondents (31%) answered “I’m not sure” to a question asking about consideration of taking leave. Part of the appeal of NYU Shanghai is the small class cohorts that go through the college experience together, which would be compromised by a large number of students taking a semester off. Many classes at NYU Shanghai are also semester specific: you can only take POH during the first semester of sophomore year, further complicating graduation progress. If a universal ‘Pass/Fail’ policy is implemented, students on the fence about taking a leave of absence may choose to finish this semester if given the assurance that they would earn their credits without damaging their GPA.

Third, many classes do not transition well to a digital learning platform for various reasons. Time zone differences make group projects and even attending lectures a nightmare, the in-person interaction component of classes is largely lost, and students and professors are still struggling to adapt to using Zoom. When you’re in a 100-person Zoom lecture and one person forgets to turn their mic off, it can get pretty distracting. This also puts students at a disadvantage when trying to maintain or boost our GPA’s. We’re all trying to navigate this new style of learning that has inevitable sacrifices. Office hours are not as accessible, assignments and assessments will have to be given in entirely new formats, and in person participation is lost impeding comprehension of the material. Because of this, a relaxation of ‘Pass/Fail’ policies will allow students to continue degree progress without fear of severely damaging their GPA due to a situation that was and continues to be entirely out of their control. 


I realize that asking for all courses across all global sites is an extreme demand, which is why I’d like to offer a few expansions to this semesters ‘Pass/Fail’ for Shanghai classes specifically. First, all classes, including required courses, taken ‘Pass/Fail’ should count towards major, minor and degree requirements, as well as fill prerequisites. This gives students maximum opportunity to maintain degree progress when they would have otherwise taken a leave of absence. The Gallatin School of Individualized Study is also undertaking this policy for Spring 2020. Second, students should be granted the option to take an unlimited number of courses on a ‘Pass/Fail’ basis. Third, the deadline for declaring a class ‘Pass/Fail’ should be extended to Reading Day (May 16), a policy which New York has adopted. 

Although classes have been taught online for the entire term, many Shanghai students opted to study away this semester, and are now dealing with the repercussions of being removed from housing and being home or elsewhere. Given these circumstances that many students are currently coping with, having ‘Pass/Fail’ policies for Shanghai classes that match New York classes would be beneficial to many students. 

Ultimately, a universal ‘Pass/Fail’ policy would be the most beneficial policy to the largest number of students given the extreme circumstances of this semester. It maintains GPA and degree progress and thus would allow a large number of students to maintain their degree progress. It also removes the competitive disadvantage that some students may face in graduate school, scholarship, and job applications. The online learning curve that could result in significant GPA drops is also accommodated for. However, if these policies cannot be met, we strongly encourage NYU Shanghai specifically to adopt the amendments to ‘Pass/Fail’ policies that have been adopted by the New York campus. 

This article was written by Lauren June Bickle. Please send an email to to get in touch. Photo Credit: Lauren June Bickle

One thought on “This Isn’t a Normal Semester, We Shouldn’t Have Normal Grading

  1. This idea sounds reasonable. But to be honest, I don’t agree with it.
    If only students in Shanghai take the P/F policy, it is unfair for students on other campuses in the short run and bad for students in NYU Shanghai in the long run. Some masters’ programs of universities need exact letter grades in certain majors, but if we can only provide P/F, how can these universities judge our ability? It will make our transcripts less competitive in the future.
    Anyway, I fully understand that international students have a hard time. My roommate has changed three campuses this semester. So I think this policy should be optional for students in need, but not mandatory for all students in NYU Shanghai.

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