Dartmouth’s new policy will harm those it allegedly helps.

Dartmouth recently decided to suspend standard grading for the upcoming spring term and move all courses to a credit/no credit grading system. We urge the Dartmouth administration to reverse this decision. The College’s argument is fallible, peer institutions have moved to more flexible grading systems, and there will be a detrimental effect on post-graduate opportunities as a result of the new policy.

As such, we propose that Dartmouth change to an opt-out CT/NC system, in which students have the option to take classes for a grade.

The College argues that a mandatory CT/NC system will help students who have limited access to technology or excessive family demands at home. However, this policy change actually reflects a paternalistic stance and denies less-privileged students agency within their own educational careers. The College’s decision to deny students a choice in grading ignores those underprivileged students who would otherwise benefit from letter grades.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first extenuating circumstance for many students. Consider students who work multiple campus jobs to pay tuition or struggle with their own health conditions or those of a family member. These students may have had previous terms in which their academic performance reflects their lack of privilege more than their intellectual merit. Indeed, many students may have already taken courses on a CT/NC basis — or withdrawn from courses entirely — due to non-academic, personal challenges. Because GPA is an average, a mandatory CT/NC regime magnifies each previous academic challenge.

A student’s GPA isn’t just a mark of achievement, it’s used as an absolute assessment of competency by a number of employers, fellowship programs and graduate schools. Many law schools, for example, use GPA as an effective cut-off for applications. And because there is no recourse for students to prove that their GPA would have been sufficiently high without Dartmouth’s mandatory CT/NC policy, those students who don’t meet GPA cut-offs will find themselves at a disadvantage.

No transcript addendum can adjust a student’s overall GPA to reflect what would have been without Dartmouth’s policy change. And moreover, with internships and research opportunities […]

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