For weeks, the pass/D/fail (P/D/F) policy for this semester has been sparking debate. After the University switched from giving professors significant discretion over whether students could P/D/F their class to extending the P/D/F option to all classes, students like opinion columnist JJ López Haddad are still pushing for a universal P/D/F policy. This would require all grades on transcripts this semester to be P/D/F, something that other universities like Harvard and Columbia have already done.
The Princeton administration has not been very receptive to this universal P/D/F argument, and I do not expect that to change from the University statements I’ve read. Part of this is for good reason, as some students would rather be given the option to take a class for a grade if they wish. However, I also do not believe that the current policy is the best it can be, primarily because the P/D/F deadline — which has been extended to Dean’s Date, May 12 — is still too soon for students to make thoughtful decisions. In order to give students maximum flexibility to determine how they want their performance measured and reflected on their transcripts this semester, I am advocating for a P/D/F deadline on May 23, after semester grades are posted.
A P/D/F deadline before the posting of final grades assumes that students will have a good understanding of how they are doing in a class by Dean’s Date. For most of us, however, these are the first classes that we’ve ever taken online. Many classes, including several of mine this semester, are evaluated almost solely on final projects and exam performances. How, then, are we supposed to know whether Zoom classes will allow us to learn and adequately prepare for our final exams before we even take them?
When I asked this question to administrators at the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) meeting last Monday, I was given the response that faculty were worried that a later P/D/F deadline would allow students to use the P/D/F option as a way to cover up bad grades. Yet the current deadline incentivizes and encourages even more students to “cover up” their grades — students, worried by their performance and unable to predict how grades will look after Dean’s Date, will have no choice but to P/D/F a course.
I suspect that many students, if given the option, would prefer not to P/D/F a class, whether it be because they want letter grades to show on medical or graduate school applications or because they want to boost their GPAs. Yet as articles have shown, not all students have it equal anymore. There are Princeton students who currently have spotty Internet access, students who have had to travel home to places around the world, and students who have loved ones who are ill from the novel coronavirus.
This is an incredibly stressful time, and grades should not be a significant contributor to that stress. But the current P/D/F deadline is doing exactly that — leaving it up to chance and forcing students to take a guess at how they will perform. If students had the option to choose after grades were posted, they could take a breath, put as much into their classes as they can, and then evaluate whether they are happy with how they did. If they unexpectedly end up doing poorly, they will not need to worry about the ramifications. If they end up doing better than expected, they can showcase their performance instead of having to cover it up with a P/D/F.
I hope that the Princeton administration reconsiders the P/D/F deadline as a compromise between the universal and optional P/D/F policies. As it currently stands, I anticipate that on May 12, many students will click the “P/D/F” option out of fear or worry. Like it or not, grades are a way by which society evaluates us, but Princeton can alleviate the burden in this unusual semester by giving us the full ability, through an extended P/D/F deadline, to choose which grades we reveal while navigating the challenges of online learning.
Claire Wayner is a sophomore studying civil and environmental engineering. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.