Virtual Senate Meeting: April 1

During the covid-19 crisis the Faculty Senate will be holding Zoom meetings  as needed.

The Zoom URL will be emailed to Senators. That URL can be shared with other Cornell faculty but no further. Here is why.

The audio and chat transcript will be posted online shortly thereafter and the written transcript of the audio a little bit later.

There will be separate voting on the Academic Integrity Document and the S/U resolution.  Ballots will be sent to Senators by email at the close of the meeting. The voting window ends at noon Thursday April 2.

Date and Time: Wednesday, April 1, 3:30-5:00pm

Meeting Etiquette


Academic Integrity Document
Resolution affirming support for the document passed 82-to-1


Overview of Various Grade Options
Rationale for Maintaining a Choice-Based Grading System
Resolution on Mandatory S/U for the S20 Semester
Resolution defeated 46-to-62 (3 abstentions)

Good and Welfare

Recorded meeting  (audio) (chat transcript)
Meeting minutes

Background Reading

Chronicle of Higher Education (March 19)
Cornell Sun (March 27)
Cornell Sun (March 31)

Post comments below. Anonymous unless you identify yourself in the message..

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123 thoughts on “Virtual Senate Meeting: April 1

  1. As a first-gen who comes from a low income household, I urge you to please keep our current grading option and our right to choose. Making a universal decision on a student body of about 15,000 is not inclusive and will increase stress and anxiety for students who have worked hard this semester and feel that their futures will be compromised!

  2. As someone who comes from a low income family with both parents now laid off, and a home situation in which I cannot perform up to my personal standards I strongly urge the faculty senate to approve the universal S/U measure or even an Universal Pass measure. If this is not done it will only worsen the burden on students in a position such as myself, and make a disparity in performance and grading in important matters such as graduate admissions or job applications.

    Please consider this argument, all the best.

  3. Keep the letter grade option, it’s the most fair for people who want to attend graduate schools

  4. Please keep the status quo. Many students also experience hardships before COVID-19 hits but having a more accomodating grading scheme was not an option before. The situation is a difficulty but not more difficult than when other mishaps occur in student’s lives. It’s unfair to the students who went through hardship by taking damages in their grades or having to take gap years. Also, keeping the option to have letter grades do not hurt anyone. In fact, many students RELY on the grades this semester to apply for more advanced degrees. Even if they are not penalized by the PASS/FAIl grading scheme this year, their OVERALL GPAs are still being compared to other students during admission/recruitment. It’s highly unfair for them to lose the opportunity to showcase their academic capabilities and improve their academic standing.

    1. This is exactly what I agree with. No matter what students will be at an disadvantage, even with universal S/U. I know many people like myself applying to medical school in the next 1-3 years. There is no way medical schools will be able to account for this semester’s change (if the change to S/U occurs) because of all the different candidates applying. They can’t simply add the points to our GPAs. This semester I and many other pre-meds seniors have worked VERY hard knowing that this was our last semester to bump our GPAs. I am supposed to see a .08 bump in my GPA (this is huge!). Medical schools will not be able to see this. Please please please don’ t take away our ability to choose.

  5. For many students, if not the majority of students, the opt-in S/U system is not, in fact, optional. There are two main reasons for this:

    (1) Medical schools and other graduate programs will not accept S/U grades unless there was a universal S/U system in place. Additionally, numerous peer institutions such as Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, MIT, and Dartmouth have made the transition to universal S/U. Therefore, students at these schools will have a marked advantage over Cornellians in the application process, as they can either tend to their more pressing responsibilities without the pressure of academics. For those who do not have such responsibilities, this affords them the time to focus on other aspects of their application without facing repercussions for taking S/U classes. Please keep in mind that this decision will impact students in all years (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors).

    (2) Students who cannot receive the same quality of education as their peers will be greatly disadvantaged by an opt-in S/U system. This could be due to a lack of resources or due to due to overwhelming external responsibilities. Not only would they be disadvantaged if they are applying to graduate programs like medical schools for the reason outlined above, but also for employment that requires having a certain GPA. Thus, opt-in S/U only exacerbates inequities in the student body and is in contradiction with Cornell’s motto, “Any person, any study.”

  6. If the university adopts Universal s/u, I fully expect a tuition refund because the semester has been a complete waste.

    1. How has it been a waste? You took advantage of the resources on campus and lectures for half of the semester. Presumably you learned something. Online courses are still being offered with staff still giving you feedback on your work, and presumably you will continue learning.

      What logical reason do you have for it being a complete waste?

      1. Some of us had the option to graduate early, but stuck it out for both the college experience and for our GPAs. Now that the college experience is virtual, and we may not have grades at all, I think it is acceptable for people in these types of situations to consider the semester “a waste”. In addition, we’re still paying for our apartments, when we could have leased them if we had left. Thousands of dollars down the drain. As for classes, many students in lab classes, arts and architecture classes have to somehow complete their semesters online. These courses, and even the others that are more compatible to online format, will no longer hold the same educational value as in-person classes. I think it is perfectly logical and acceptable for us to regret spending thousands of dollars on this semester.

  7. My own preference is for option 0 (status quo at this point) but I can see the case being made for option 1 (universal S/U) and think its also a reasonable option. I think these are the only two viable options.
    The concerns with option 0 are in part based on the assumption that the transcripts will be read out of context of the current events. This is surely not the case. I expect it will (accurately) be assumed that an A or B will mean less than they normally do this semester because faculty will have a tendency to inflate grades to compensate for the hardships their students will experience this spring. I expect it will also be assumed by transcript readers that students receiving an S under option 0 were not taking the class S/U just because they were looking for an easy way out. I also expect that the concern about external scholarships etc. with option 1 will not be well founded in the end, at least if many of our peer institutions go with universal S/U.
    Frankly I think that in practice there is little meaningful difference between these options in spite of appearances. Everyone will know what happened in spring 2020.
    Options 2 seems like a nonstarter for various reasons and I expect that in practice it is equivalent to option 1 except that students get less less credit for their work.
    Option 3 is totally unacceptable. The assumption of those reading the transcripts will be that an S or U is a grade the student does not want to show whoever is reading the transcripts. It seems this considerably amplifies the stigma of an “S”. This is also unfair to any student already taking the class for S/U since it will degrade the meaning of their S.
    Option 4 does not seem fully formed.

  8. Please take under consideration the thoughts of your low-income, first-generation communities. Those online wanting optional S/U have the option to voice their opinions. These people do NOT represent the majority as those without wifi access and those too busy caring for their loved ones or working extra jobs due to their parents being laid off cannot voice their opinions. I am begging you, as a FGLI minority myself, to please instill mandatory S/U. It is not optional S/U if the most underprivileged do not have an option.

  9. A lot of the time it is easy to forget that college is a bubble where we can help to better equalize the playing field and provide students an easier opportunity to do well. But in this difficult time, where parents are dying and getting sick, students are forced to reconcile with difficult and upsetting circumstances, and our nation’s unemployment is rapidly skyrocketing, it is incredibly unfair to ALL students to not enact universal S/U. This allows for our student body to acknowledge this difficult semester and helps people from difficult backgrounds in applying to graduate school as all students can be seen the same way and thus will not be penalized for being forced to take a course S/U. Consider the whole as the big picture. It must be reiterated how important such a resolution is all students and to give everyone a chance to succeed- that would make Ezra proud in these difficult times.

  10. Universal S/U is an equalizer and takes in consideration the unfair disadvantages students now face being back home. We cannot allow graduate and higher-Ed programs to punish students who face food insecurity, instability, and other obstacles to their education at home.

  11. A universal S/U system would eliminate opportunities for personal growth, jeopardize the competitiveness of Cornell graduates, put external merit-based scholarships at risk, and compromise Cornellians’ freedom of choice. As the best compromise between the universal pass and opt-in S/U policies, we would like you to support our campaign to follow the footsteps of other prominent universities like Carnegie Mellon, Boston University, and the University of Michigan by allowing POST GRADES OPT-IN S/U: Cornell Registrar should RETAIN its current optional S/U policy but EXTEND the deadline to opt-in to 7 days after final grades are released.

    Post-grade opt-in S/U is in favor of students from a disadvantaged background because it will:

    Prevent historically disadvantaged students, who may have suffered lower GPAs during freshman and sophomore years, from being put at an even greater academic disadvantage. Spring 2020 may be one of their last chances to improve their academic records, particularly if they’re applying to graduate programs directly out of Cornell

    Enable Cornellians, such as those from low-income backgrounds, who rely on external merit-based scholarships to afford their Cornell education to retain their eligibility for such scholarships

    Post-grade opt-in S/U is in favor of students applying to graduate programs because it will:

    Enable Cornellians applying to postgraduate programs to keep their competitiveness when compared with students from other schools with letter grades

    Enable graduating seniors, second-semester, juniors and other Cornellians who are applying to pre-professional schools this cycle to retain their last chance to improve their academic record before their graduation/application

    Allow Cornell undergraduates to retain their opportunity for improvement and growth this semester and prevent them from feeling as if their efforts from the first half of their semester will be wasted

    Post-grades opt-in S/U also allows for the option of S/U which will:

    Mitigate academic stress by allowing flexibility for all students during these confusing and chaotic times

    Prevent discrimination against students who face unique technical and circumstantial challenges by providing them the option to avoid having their circumstances count against them negatively academically

    Please keep the current system in place, but extend the grade decision deadline to after final grades are released!

  12. I implore the faculty senate to go with option 3. Some of us had a rocky start here at Cornell due to the vastly different high school educations we received. Because of that, some of us have been trying to fix our GPAs since freshman year for graduate schools, first jobs, etc. College is all about growth, taking away our ability to raise our GPAs suppresses that growth. Continuing to allow students a choice is important so those that are faced with adversity during this difficult time get the help they need along with those who faced adversity before coming to Cornell. Not to mention a universal P/F may cause a lot of students to “check out” for the semester.

  13. I am a senior undergrad whose ability to attend a competitive grad school is dependent on my receiving letter grades this semester. Allow students to choose which grading schema best fits their circumstances. What works for one Cornellian does not work for all!

    1. Should have worked harder, pal. What stopped you from improving your GPA last semester? Or the semester before that? You cannot possibly put your own self-inflicted GPA above hundreds of your fellow Cornellians.

      1. The above response is ridiculous, how can you shame another student for wanting to improve their grades. You have no idea what kind of circumstances could have led to them having subpar grades in the past that they had been hoping to make up for: family death, mental or physical illness, etc. Circumstances that many people may be feeling this semester as well. This student has likely been trying to improve their GPA over several semesters. Speaking from experience, it often takes several semesters to recover from one bad grade, so even missing this semesters grades could make a big difference. At times like these we shouldn’t be trying to drag other students down.

  14. Please continue to support opt-in S/U, it is not only the fairest solution but the majority decision too.

    1. From my personal experience as a transfer student, a universal pass would significantly hurt my hopes of boosting my gpa after suffering from personal issues in a previous semester. I think it is fair to say that as college students we have all been met with external factors that have threatened our academic performance during our time in college, and often times without the option of choosing S/U. An optional S/U or Letter Grade is the most equitable solution.

  15. I don’t understand the point of grades. Classes will significantly deteriorate in quality. Cheating will be rampant. Collaboration – core to our education – will not feasible. How will grades be meaningful at all?

    This is an argument alongside the more obvious arguments such as unstable family home, stress from laid off or sick (or both) parent, etc.

    Our priority shouldn’t be receiving a meaningless letter grade. It should instead be to stay safe—and keep our loved ones safer.

    And yet, we will undoubtedly fail. Loved ones of current Cornellians will die. Loved ones of current Cornellians will get laid off. And such Cornellians will step up to the plate. They’ll be a reassuring voice to a younger sibling, or the bread winner of the family. This should be their priority. We cannot add burden to such Cornellians who will likely suffer from the traumatic loss of a family member and the financial setbacks of the recession. We, as an institution, must prevent them from worrying about letter grades.

  16. As someone who has a rough family situation and is under a lot of stress due to moving back and both parents having to continue to work, I strongly urge the faculty senate to consider the universal pass. These are unique times and similar measures have been taken by other major schools such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Columbia. I ask that you please consider doing this to help students like myself who did not foresee this and may not be able to perform as well as they ought to due to the situation.

  17. Universal pass/fail or S/U is the most equitable solution. A “pass” will always be seen as less than an “A”, and some med schools, such as Harvard Medical School, have stated that they will only recognize pass/fail grades if the policy is universal. Let’s not hurt those who have no option but pass/fail during this difficult time.

  18. Universal pass/fail or S/U is the most equitable solution. A “pass” will always be seen as less than an “A”, and some med schools, such as Harvard Medical School, have stated that they will only recognize pass/fail grades if the policy is universal. Let’s not hurt those who have no option but pass/fail during this difficult time.

  19. Please give us the opportunity to continue to work hard for a letter grade (or for s/u)! Thank you all for your efforts

  20. Option 3: Opt in/out after final grades is the most inclusive resolution, as it allows students to make a choice on a very individual matter. Additionally, it reduces stress and anxiety for everyone. Please support this resolution. Thank you for all of your efforts.

    1. Universal s/u seems like the only equitable approach. Beyond equity, letter grades likely no longer accurately reflect competence and/or relative abilities compared to peers.

  21. We appreciate your current resolution that allows individuals to make a choice on what path would be best for them. Making a universal decision when there is a student body of 15,000 students is not inclusive and will increase stress and anxiety for those the Universal Pass is intending to help.

  22. One additional argument for universal s/u is that there is no secure way to give an online exam. Not all courses are appropriate for take home exams or papers, and all exam solutions offered so far are flawed.
    Levent V. Orman

    1. I see your point, but other schools (Berkeley, Johns Hopkins) are administering tests with Zoom. Although a far cry from having a secured test environment, this can help to ensure that there is less cheating occurring (can check for a tab switch, and what’s on a student’s desk, etc.).

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