Faculty Senate enacts undergraduate alternative grading system as policy

April 16, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Penn State Faculty Senate has officially enacted policy to reflect the University’s implementation of an optional alternative grading system during the spring 2020 semester.

Under the new grading system announced by the University in March, undergraduate students will be permitted to keep earned grades, or request an alternative grade of SAT, V or Z for any course taken during the spring 2020 semester. This grading system is designed to mitigate impacts to students’ GPAs and academic transcripts due to unforeseen challenges and extenuating circumstances caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The senate’s action officially codifies this adopted system as Senate Policy 49-70.

This new policy was passed on April 8 during a meeting of Senate Council, rather than during a regularly scheduled plenary meeting with a quorum of senate membership. Senate Council is a smaller, representative body within the senate that reviews reports from senate committees and sets the agenda for plenary meetings. It does not typically approve legislation or pass policy but, under special circumstances, the council can be empowered to act on behalf of the full senate.

Faculty Senate Chair Nicholas Rowland explained that Senate Council used a special provision in the senate’s bylaws that allows that chair – in consultation with the University president and senate officers – to temporarily suspend senate rules and then allow the council to act on behalf of the full senate during a "situation of special Senate concern.”

Rowland said he was not aware of any point in the previous 40 years that this provision had been invoked, and said the Senate Council only took this step due to the importance of grading to the University’s academic mission and to provide timely, responsive guidance and policy for faculty

The actions of Senate Council follow a resolution passed by the full Senate on March 17 asking the University to consider satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading in recognition of the academic challenges posed by the coronavirus public health crisis. The University issued communications announcing an optional alternative grading system on March 25 – which have now been adopted as official senate policy.

“The resolution that Faculty Senate passed was a promise that we would find a way. Only three weeks later, it was a unanimous vote in favor at Senate Council,” Rowland said. “I am proud of the senate.”

Rowland said he sees this entire process as a victory for shared governance during challenging circumstances. In particular, he praised the senators who wrote the initial resolution in a short span of time, as well as University administration for continuing to make shared governance a priority during the ongoing pandemic response.

“What I’ve learned from this process is that our shared governance is as vibrant as it has ever been,” he said. “This was an amazing lift by all involved.”

Last Updated April 16, 2020