On March 27, the College sent a school-wide email rejecting a student proposal to change grading for this semester from mandatory credit/credit non/credit with distinction (denoted as MCR/MCRD/MNCR) to an A/A- scale. The petition, titled “#WellesleyforAll”, was submitted to faculty and staff on March 23 and was signed by 1,101 students, almost half of the undergraduate population. According to the email, the College is unable to support the A/A- policy because it would “undermine the credibility of this semester’s grades”, thereby having a negative impact on how preceding semester’s grades would be interpreted by the outside world.
While the College cited that an “overwhelming majority” of 158 faculty, around 82 percent, opposed the petition, student support varies.
“In what world does a universal A help anyone if it’s going to be accompanied by a letter essentially saying that you didn’t earn the A but that it was given as a default?” Sofia Rubio ’23 said. “I’m pleased with admin’s decision because this keeps everyone from having basically worthless second semester grades that would eventually have to be explained with a letter from Wellesley stating that the grades are a result of an A/A- policy rather than exemplary work which would reflect badly on everyone.”
According to a frequently asked questions document that accompanied the #WellesleyForAll petition, one of the main concerns was that a MCR/MCRD/MNCR grading system would negatively impact first generation and low-income students by eliminating an opportunity to demonstrate academic improvement. Moreover, the petition advocates for a “universal pass” system, which it argues the new grading policy doesn’t allow by maintaining the possibility of a non-credit grade.
For Kat Garrison ’21, one of the petition’s co-authors, this is personal. She recalls leaving her freshmen spring semester with a 2.8 GPA due to exhaustion resulting from a new medication that prevented her from getting enough sleep. Garrison, who is pre-med, has spent the past three semesters steadily improving her GPA in order to be able to apply to medical school, but she now worries with the new grading system, she won’t be able to raise it enough.
“I am extremely distressed and honestly I am reconsidering my entire career path,” Garrison said. “I can speak for many when I think that administration has missed the point of this petition: we aren’t looking for “free A’s” and we aren’t worried about graduate schools not “accepting” this pass/fail semester, we are simply looking for a reward for our work in the hardest semester we will probably face and some demonstration of concern for our futures.”
Concerns were also raised about how an additional semester with no grades would negatively impact first year students as well as students who had studied abroad, who would now have three credit/credit non semesters on their transcripts. Although administration has extended the deadline for first year students to petition to have shadow grades show up on their final transcript, it is likely that many will enter their sophomore years with a 0.0 GPA.
Additionally, on the FAQ document Sara Hamadani, Davis Scholar, explained that Davis Scholars have limited opportunities to boost their GPAs at Wellesley given that their grades from the institution they transferred from do not carry over. Since Davis Scholars are granted anywhere between two to six semesters at Wellesley to finish their bachelor’s degree, Hamadani argued that some would be negatively impacted by an additional credit/credit non semester.
“I feel manipulated and lied to. The email focuses on only the headline of the petition itself ‘Double-A grading model’ and does not even acknowledge the proposal of a universal pass,” Felicity Pollard ’21, a co-author of the petition, said. “Based on the email by Provost Shennen this morning, I find it extremely hard to believe that it was ever given more than a perfunctory glance.”
The College first notified students of the academic policy’s change to a MCR/MCRD/MNCR grading system in an email on March 18, around the time when other colleges and universities such as Harvard and MIT were releasing similar policies. According to the email, the College believes this is the best way to account for the various challenges that students would be facing during this time. While many institutions have been proposing similar mandatory credit/credit non grading systems, others like Amherst College and Vassar College have proposed an opt-in pass/fail grading system.
“We know that all of us will do the best that we can, but in a situation in which none of us knows what that will be, removing the pressure of grades is the best way to support all students and faculty in their efforts to finish their courses successfully,” the email from administration read.
For many, especially pre-med students, this decision has only caused more stress and anxiety.
“I’m a pre-med and a neuroscience major. I desperately need a job after college and was depending on this semester to boost my GPA,” said Jazlyn Raggio ’21. “I’m worried that between grade deflation, this semester’s grading policy and the bad job market that I won’t find work.”
Although Taylor Garcia ’23 acknowledges that the school’s policy has some flaws, they argue that MCR/MCRD/MNCR is the best grading system to mitigate the many different challenges students are facing during the pandemic.
“I went home from Wellesley to a pretty difficult family situation. I don’t want to be thinking about getting a B- in my computer science class amidst all that,” Garcia said. “I got to Wellesley by prioritizing my academics but that’s simply not something I can do right now.”
Similarly, Katie Christoph ’21 said that given the global nature of the pandemic, future employers, graduate schools and medical schools would take the event into account when reviewing applications.
“This crisis is upending everything, and I understand the tendency to think about one’s future prospects at this time, but there are siblings among us who are homeless, whose families will go bankrupt, whose parents will get sick and die,” Christoph said.