Karen Sloan (Law.com), With Pass/Fail Now the Norm, Outlier Law Schools Face Student Backlash:
Law students at Arizona State, University of Georgia and Georgia State are among those pushing campus administrators to adopt mandatory pass/fail grading.
Arizona State University law dean Douglas Sylvester is well aware that he’s not the most popular guy on his (virtual) campus at the moment.
The school’s Student Bar Association on Monday issued an open letter denouncing the school’s handling of spring semester grading, saying students feel “betrayed” by the announced policy, which requires them to go through a formal accommodation process to request that their grades be reported as pass/fail. Students may choose to go that route immediately, or they may make that request after grades have been issued if their spring semester grade point average is lower than their cumulative GPA. Students have vented their frustrations on legal blogs and online forums such as Reddit, calling the scheme “heartless” and a “prisoner’s dilemma.”
Sylvester is among a number of law deans and university administrators receiving backlash from students who are unhappy over the grading policies their schools have rolled out amid the coronavirus pandemic. The University of Georgia School of Law, the University of Michigan Law School, the University of Chicago Law School, and Georgia State University College of Law also have seen pushback over grading, as have numerous other schools. Though students harbor an array of opinions over what grading system is best, the most vocal and organized among them are pushing for mandatory pass/fail grading.
Mandatory pass/fail grading has emerged as the most widely adopted system among law schools, in response to the coronavirus pandemic and quick shift to fully online classes. At least 75 law schools have announced moves to mandatory pass/fail grades for the semester, including all but three of the so-called T-14 schools. (Chicago is keeping its traditional grading system, and both Michigan and Georgetown University Law Center are allowing student the option of going pass/fail after they see their spring grades.)
In explaining the adoption of pass/fail grading, law school deans have characterized it as the most fair and humane approach given the mounting stresses students are feeling, the uneven impact of the virus on students, and the difficulty in ensuring security of exams taken online. Not everyone agrees, of course.
Some professors have argued that pass/fail grading robs students of the ability to show academic improvement; eliminates the ability of schools to identify students who are struggling and require more academic support; and fails to give them an opportunity to demonstrate the resilience they need to be good lawyers.
With so many law schools coalescing around mandatory pass/fail grading, many students at campuses that either choose to keep traditional grading or made pass/fail grades optional believe they are being treated unfairly, and they are making that known to decision-makers at their schools.
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