The following email was sent to NYU Law students on March 25, 2020.
I write to announce two significant changes to NYU Law’s grading policy, both of which were adopted by the Law School faculty today, March 25, 2020. In adopting the first change, a mandatory CREDIT/FAIL grading policy for all Spring 2020 semester courses, the faculty appreciated the thoughtful input of administrators and students on the best way forward for our community in these unprecedented times. In adopting the second change, the elimination of the mandatory B- in 1L classes effective next academic year, the faculty is indebted to the research and advocacy done by the Student Bar Association on behalf of the J.D. student body.
I. Adoption of a Mandatory CREDIT/FAIL Grading Policy for Spring 2020 Semester Courses, Effective Immediately
In light of NYU Law’s transition to remote teaching and learning for the balance of the Spring 2020 semester and the concomitant disruptions as well as the general burdens caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Law School faculty has voted to adopt a mandatory CREDIT/FAIL grading policy for all Spring 2020 courses for the J.D. program, the LL.M. programs, and the MSL in Tax. More specifically, the following policy is in effect for the Spring 2020 semester as of March 25, 2020:
- GRADING POLICY CHANGE: In any course (or activity, regardless of type) for which the Law School grants credit in the Spring 2020 semester, credit will be awarded exclusively on a CREDIT/FAIL basis according to our existing requirements for such credit, regardless of whether any student in that course has elected to be graded on that basis. All letter-grade requirements are waived and thus deemed satisfied by a grade of CREDIT in a Spring 2020 semester course.
- PROGRAMS AND COURSES AFFECTED: The policy change applies to Spring 2020 semester courses in the J.D. program, the LL.M. programs, and the MSL in Tax. The policy does not apply to the MSCRS program or to Spring 2020 courses in which grades have already been awarded.
- Whether or not a student has been enrolled in any course on a CREDIT/FAIL basis, the CREDIT/FAIL grading in Spring 2020 shall not count against any student’s maximum number of permitted CREDIT/FAIL courses.
- All transcripts will be annotated to indicate that Spring 2020 grades reflect NYU Law’s policy in response to the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus rather than the choices of any individual student.
- Grades for Spring 2020 shall not figure in any student’s cumulative grade point average, nor shall they be calculated toward any end-of-year rankings or Law School honors.
- Year-long clinics will still award grades for the Fall components of those clinics.
- EXCEPTION: There may arise a limited number of special circumstances in our LL.M. and other graduate programs requiring case-specific treatment. An ad hoc review committee will be convened to consider petitions from students with special circumstances, such as issues relating to minimum grade point average graduation requirements.
This policy change follows from the faculty’s careful consideration of concerns expressed by faculty colleagues, senior administrators, leadership at peer schools, and our students. The students have communicated with the Dean’s Office and the Office of Student Affairs individually and collectively, including through surveys solicited by student organizations such as the Student Bar Association, BALSA, LALSA, DALSA, APALSA, MELSA, SALSA, OUTLaw, FGP, MHLJA, WoCC, COLR, and others. In total, the faculty heard from more than 1,400 students, among whom there was broad support for the adoption of a mandatory CREDIT/FAIL grading policy. In deliberating on this issue, the Law School faculty evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of potential changes to the grading policies, including: the adopted policy; mandatory CREDIT/FAIL grading for courses with examinations only; mandatory CREDIT/FAIL grading for 1L courses only; and optional CREDIT/FAIL for all courses. Together, the faculty agreed that, while there is no perfect option available, a mandatory CREDIT/FAIL grading policy for all courses in Spring 2020 is the least problematic option in these extraordinary circumstances.
The adoption of this policy is based on the preeminent considerations of equity and compassion. All members of our community have been forced to adapt without warning to stressful, rapidly changing circumstances. Some students, however, will bear the burden of this crisis more acutely because students differ in family circumstances, caregiver responsibilities, financial background, immigration status, and personal health. In sharing details about their individual situations, our students have been persuasive in their arguments that standard letter grades in these extraordinary times are as likely to measure student advantages or disadvantages as they are to reflect student aptitude or effort. Furthermore, eliminating the letter-grade requirement will relieve some of the pressure our students are experiencing as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and the efforts to stop its spread.
The adoption of this policy is not without costs, the two primary costs raised by students, faculty, and administrators being incentives and fairness. Where students are aware that they will receive the same credit for a course almost regardless of their performance, they may not invest significant effort in their work. This is particularly so when a health crisis places other demands on their time and attention. In adopting this shift in grading policy, the Law School faculty are counting on everyone in our community to encourage participation of students who might be disengaged.
The Law School faculty are mindful that a number of students, though not the majority, indicated that a mandatory CREDIT/FAIL grading policy would be unfair to those who have worked hard this semester towards achieving a high grade. This might be particularly true for first-year J.D. students who have only one semester’s worth of law grades when looking for a job for next summer. Although this cost is not entirely unavoidable, we believe the policy of major law firms will mitigate this harm. Members of our administration have confirmed in recent conversations with leadership at many major law firms that they would be supportive of postponing this summer’s interviews to January 2021, thus providing students with the opportunity to improve their grades in Fall 2L, to demonstrate their practice area interests through course selection, and to distinguish themselves through summer work experience, journal membership, and clinical work before going on the job market.
Some colleagues and students expressed a preference for a carve-out permitting letter grades for courses without examinations, such as clinics and some seminars. In giving due consideration to the option of distinguishing exam courses from others, the Law School faculty believes that distinction would create another type of arbitrary, after-the-fact disparity between students who elected to take more lecture-format courses and those who opted for clinical or seminar courses. Finally, some surveyed students favored an optional CREDIT/FAIL policy as an alternative to the mandatory policy the Law School faculty has adopted. We concluded that there would be a greater cost imposed by an optional system, which could pressure students in the midst of our current crisis to opt for grades so as not to send what they might perceive as a negative signal by electing to receive credit instead of a grade. For similar reasons, a number of our peer schools have adopted a mandatory CREDIT/FAIL rule after considering an optional one.
An FAQ on the Spring 2020 mandatory CREDIT/FAIL grading policy will be added shortly to the Law School’s page on coronavirus-related measures and restrictions.
II. Elimination of the Mandatory B- in 1L Classes, Effective Fall 2020
Responding to a Student Bar Association proposal of November 8, 2019, the NYU Law faculty has voted to eliminate the mandatory B- in 1L classes in the J.D. program, but retain all other aspects of the mandatory 1L curve. Effective Fall 2020, B- grades (and lower) are still permissible in 1L classes, as they are in upper-level classes, but they are no longer mandatory.
I look forward to joining you tomorrow evening at our Virtual Town Hall for students at 7 p.m., and I continue to wish you well.
Trevor W. Morrison
Eric M. and Laurie B. Roth Professor of Law
New York University School of Law