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Adjustments to Academic Policy and Student Assessments

The following adjustments have been made to academic policies and evaluations, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Grading: Mandatory Pass/Fail

The mandatory pass/fail system in place for this semester replaces the normal system of evaluative letter grades. The grade of P will take the place of the grades of A, B, C, or D, while an F will still be registered as an F. Non Evaluative notations on the transcript will still be available, such as AR (administrative referral) or R (registration credit).

Faculty are asked to bear in mind that normal grading practices (for example, curving the grade in certain classes) generally assume that all students have equal access to classroom instruction and academic resources. The pass/fail system of grading was implemented because we cannot assume that all students have that equal access, and because we cannot assume that faculty can easily apply their normal grading criteria in an academic structure that is so different from our norm (i.e., online).

Faculty are therefore encouraged to think, individually and with colleagues, about what the grade of "pass" looks like in our current circumstances -- in other words, to determine what learning looks like in the time of a global pandemic in ways that serve our students as well as possible while adjusting our shared expectations of what constitutes reasonable content delivered in a reasonable timeline. This is a delicate balance, to create conditions in which we try to engage students as fully as possible while taking into account the disruption that they – and we – are feeling in the way we experience instruction and also our day-to-day lives.

Faculty are also asked to be as flexible as possible with their students, particularly in cases in which students are encountering personal, social, and/or economic challenges as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and the current global crisis.

We remain committed to engaging our students and guiding their learning and therefore encourage faculty to:

  • Have explicit conversations with students about the goals of their classes for the second half of the semester, so that faculty and students alike continue to be engaged with the course material. A pass/fail semester offers the opportunity for the academic community to put aside pressures associated with assigning or receiving letter grades and to focus even more on the learning process; open communication may help this experience online to be productive and beneficial for faculty and students alike.

  • Continue to measure student progress in their courses and to provide evaluative feedback on all course requirements, in order to help students gauge the success of their understanding and application of course material;

  • Provide clear guidance to students about their level of achievement of course learning goals. For example, some faculty may wish to assign grades on individual assignments in order to reflect the level of mastery a student has shown (although faculty should keep in mind that a final grade will not be awarded on the student’s transcript), while other faculty may wish to move to narrative feedback only in order to convey the level of mastery achieved.

  • Keep their own personal records of student progress, so that they are prepared to write detailed letters of recommendation in the future for students who may need faculty support for applications to graduate school, professional schools, and competitive opportunities, which may be especially important to students at this time.*

If students become ill, or if they have responsibility for others who are ill, faculty should be aware that, even in mild cases, the COVID-19 virus can produce severe symptoms, and people who fall ill from the virus may be incapacitated for multiple weeks. So faculty are asked to be flexible with students in such cases and should provide course materials and other support to help the students complete the course. Faculty should consult with students’ advising deans in these cases, and Incompletes will be supported by the schools in these circumstances.

The pass/fail grading system was put into place this semester to try to create the conditions in which our students can successfully complete this disrupted semester and progress to the next stage of their studies or careers. If you feel that a student in your class may be unlikely to earn a “pass” as a final grade, please be in touch with the student’s advising dean as soon as possible to learn more about the student’s situation. You can find the adviser’s name in your course roster in Courseworks (search in the “Photo Roster” section, then in the “List/Advisors” tab), or you can contact the designated individuals at the appropriate school.

*Note: If individual students insist that a letter grade is needed for their pursuits (e.g., graduate school, scholarship, home institution credit), please advise the students to talk with their advising deans. Columbia College has made available to students a school statement that can be shared with any organization, and all schools will be interested in communicating with other organizations to ensure the success of our students. It may also be useful to note that all Ivy League schools have declared that their graduate and professional schools will accept grades of “pass” in Spring 2020 (especially from schools who have declared a mandatory pass/fail system this semester), and that they will also consider students’ cumulative GPAs with the current disruption in mind."

Final Assessments of Student Work

Given that many students are working asynchronously and coping with a range of very challenging circumstances, faculty may wish to consider an adjustment to their originally planned assessment formats. Especially given the unprecedented events of this semester, end-of-term assignments can provide students with a summative experience of their learning this term, which can be achieved by many means. Flexibility and creativity are encouraged.

Many students have shared that they feel isolated working at a physical distance from their instructors and fellow students. Faculty can help mitigate this sense of isolation by imagining opportunities for students to study together for final assignments and exams and to design assignments that promote teamwork and collaboration whenever possible. Such group preparation can help students to consolidate their knowledge, helping to ensure that they have understood course materials and are prepared to progress in their studies next semester.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity in remote learning and end-of-term assignments is of the utmost importance. Both students and faculty have communicated a desire to foreground the heightened significance of academic integrity in Spring 2020, emphasizing the values that bind us as an academic community.

All faculty are encouraged to ask students, at the beginning of any final exam or assignment, to consider the significance of academic integrity -- for example, by asking students to sign or to write out the student honor code, or by asking students to answer pointed questions about their understanding of academic integrity. As an example, faculty of the “Frontiers of Science” course asked all students to answer the following questions at the start of the midterm exam: “What does academic integrity mean to you? How can you show it in this exam? Why is academic integrity important right now?”

Faculty who would like examples of such strategies are encouraged to consult the academic affairs administrators in the undergraduate schools for guidance.

Final Examinations

For many courses, final examinations will remain the preferred end-of-term assignment. All final examinations for the Spring 2020 semester will be administered on-line. Given the challenges of administering final examinations asynchronously, faculty may wish to consider open-book, open-note exams.

If faculty feel that a timed exam is the preferred approach of assessment, there are various strategies that faculty can use to make a timed exam more feasible and productive in an online and asynchronous environment. Faculty who would like examples of such strategies are encouraged to consult the academic affairs administrators in the undergraduate schools for guidance. The Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning has additional guidance on creating online assignments and exams, and they are happy to consult with faculty individually.

The final exam schedule is now published. Adhering to this schedule will minimize possible conflicts for students, but again, faculty are asked to be flexible and creative, since the final exam schedule is premised on a synchronous structure for all students on a campus..

Students will be reminded of the following guidance regarding final exams and other assignments:

  • Students should plan ahead to ensure that they have access to the materials and support they need. Students may be able to access digital versions of texts through the Columbia University Libraries online portal.

  • Students who have three exams scheduled in one day are entitled to reschedule one of the exams to another day. Students who encounter this situation should consult their advising deans about the procedures for making this request.

  • Students who are registered with the Office of Disability Services (ODS) and have accommodations should be in touch with ODS as needed to ensure that their accommodations are aligned with remote end-of-term assignments.

Final Grades

Senior grades are due on May 15, and all other students' grades are due on May 21. More information about grading can be found on the Registrar's website.

Additional Information on Evaluating Student Work

Senior Theses

The senior thesis represents a tremendous academic achievement for some of our graduating seniors. Therefore, although the final grade for a senior thesis course must be either “pass” or “fail,” the Columbia College-General Studies Committee on Instruction (COI) recommends that any faculty member who is advising a senior thesis provides a robust evaluative summary of the level of achievement, which can be shared both with the student and with the sponsoring academic unit. This evaluative summary should reflect in specific narrative terms whether the faculty advisor recommends the student for relevant graduation honors and prizes; academic units will then be able to take into account the achievement of the senior thesis when determining departmental honors.

The CC-GS COI recommends that faculty do not give letter grades to the thesis itself, since that thesis grade will not translate to a final grade for a thesis course. Faculty are encouraged, though, to keep records for themselves of the thesis evaluation, so that they are prepared to write detailed letters of recommendation in the future for students who may need faculty support for applications to graduate school, professional schools, competitive opportunities, etc.

Awards, Honors and Prizes

During this time when all students are working under unusual duress, it is more important than ever that we recognize, whenever possible, the talent and perseverance of our students through the awarding of honors, awards, and prizes that permanently commemorate their academic achievements.

To allow faculty to have more access to academic work that they are evaluating for honors, awards, and prizes, the announcement of most honors, awards, and prizes will be delayed until mid- to late May. School administrators will communicate revised deadlines for soliciting faculty evaluations accordingly.

Given the unusual exigencies of this term, CC-GS COI offers the following guidance for graduation honors for Spring 2020.

Valedictorian and Salutatorian

Valedictorians and Salutatorians for both CC and GS will be selected according to standard school policy and process. Information on this process will be shared at the appropriate time.

Academic Prizes and Awards

Recipients of academic prizes and awards will be selected according to standard school or department processes. Information on this process will be shared at the appropriate time.

Dean’s List

Because we have moved to a mandatory Pass/Fail grading system for the term, and the awarding of Dean’s List is based solely on GPA, Dean’s List will not be awarded for the Spring 2020 term.

Latin Honors

Latin Honors will be awarded according to standard school policy, with the understanding that grades for Spring 2020 will not be taken into account in calculating Latin Honors.

Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa will be awarded according to standard school policy, in which grades and faculty evaluations are considered for each eligible student. The national Phi Beta Kappa Society has confirmed that students can be elected to Phi Beta Kappa even in the absence of an in-person induction ceremony.

Departmental Honors

Under normal circumstances, departmental honors are awarded to no more than 10% of graduating seniors. In acknowledgement of the challenges and resilience of our students this semester, academic units may extend departmental honors to up to 20% of graduating seniors.