Hamilton's Spring 2020 Grading Policies

Last night, faculty voted to make Hamilton's Spring 2020 grade policy universal Credit/No Credit/Incomplete (Cr/NC).

The faculty's formal process for making decisions is (surprise!) complicated, so the purpose of this blog post is to give a little more information: how it worked and some things I considered while voting on policies.


The process began with a proposed policy that a committee created based on faculty and student input. The committee's proposal was opt-in Cr/NC, and grades earned would be included on the transcript but no semester GPA would be calculated.

The process for moving from this policy to others we considered required proposing changes to the policy, voting on those changes, or substituting in a new policy and voting on which one we wanted to move forward. There were several rounds, and it took an extra long time because we were also adapting to the technical challenges of conducting what is supposed to be an in-person meeting online.

My Thoughts

For students trying to understand some of the things faculty were weighing, here are some of the elements of my own decision-making. It's not exhaustive; I'm listing only those things that I think might not already be evident to students.

  • What happens to students if their professor(s) get sick?
    The numbers and projections for Oneida County scare me.
    Writing with my own grade book in mind, if I were incapacitated by COVID19, my students would probably be forced to take their courses Cr/NC. Because I teach one section of a multi section class, it seems extra unfair that the other section might be able to elect grades because of something that happened to me. My own back-of-the-envelope estimate for faculty with elevated risk factors and comorbidities reinforced this point.

  • Hamilton's faculty had only 2 weeks to figure out how to adapt courses to remote instruction.
    I had to revise how I'm going to assess my students' progress using new types of assignments (including plenty of Professor-introduced-error!), and each of the policies we considered have consequences not just at Hamilton, but for employment and post-bac degree programs.

  • Many schools have already elected Cr/NC.
    Employers, graduate programs, and med schools are already figuring out how to make that Cr/NC work. Some graduate and medical schools will accept Cr/NC grades only if it is a universal policy, which means that any policy intended to provide students with flexibility ironically left many students without choice.
    There were nuanced and unique proposals that came up during the meeting that weren't as simple as "grades with optional Cr/NC" or "universal Cr/NC." By last night, I thought that if we enacted something unique among colleges, it would come back to bite us. The work that grad schools and employers are doing to adapt to college grading policies is based on what the most prevalent policies are. This is one time we don't want to stand out from the pack.
    Here's an incomplete list of colleges with universal Cr/NC policies:

    • Harvard
    • Yale
    • Columbia
    • Dartmouth
    • Stanford
    • Johns Hopkins
    • Duke
    • MIT
    • Williams
    • Smith
    • Wellesley
  • Hamilton needs a policy now that's still a good policy at the end of the semester when the true toll of COVID19 on our community is more evident. That's not an unambiguous point in favor of Cr/NC, but it was compelling to me combined with the points above and with the perspectives of students who were initially in favor of opt-in policies and changed their minds as they faced unexpected challenges.

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