While Haverford administrators accepted many of the demands made during the student strike, they declined to meet the organizers’ demand to promise “a firm commitment that students who have been participating in the strike will not receive ANY academic penalties.”
In the college-produced spreadsheet entitled Anti-Racist Commitments, they explained their reasoning:
Students may take a pass/fail in any class this fall with the option to uncover the grade, which should alleviate the worry of grades or retaliation. Individual faculty do have final authority over whether or not they forgive or provide alternate assignments for striking students as a consequence of their decision to strike.
Without any overarching guidance from the administration, faculty members took a number of different approaches to respond to the two-week interruption in classes caused by the strike and finish the semester.
One notable response came from the Biology department. Before the strike had even ended, the department had discontinued classes for the remainder of the semester in order to focus on redesigning the curriculum with equity and inclusion in mind. All classes, including thesis sections, were canceled outright. The department adjusted thesis requirements and deadlines to reflect this change.
Yet students in most biology classes still completed the entirety of their coursework for credit—just without traditional in-class hours. Instead, students learned from classes recorded in-person last year. Students requiring in-class hours for visas, alongside all students interested in participating, were able to participate in a credit-bearing seminar entitled “Crafting an Inclusive Biology Curriculum”.
Alice Youle ’21 chose to continue thesis work and participate in the new seminar simultaneously.
“I’ve definitely had to postpone a lot of in person lab work until next semester, but supporting the strike and engaging with the work the Bio department is doing to improve inclusivity is really important to me,” she wrote in a series of text messages. Youle has focused her work this semester on designing her experiments for her thesis thoroughly and closely familiarizing herself with literature in her area of study.
Though alone in the extent of their curricular changes, Biology was not the only department to issue a collective statement outlining classes for the remainder of the semester. The Anthropology department, for example, resolved that students would not face any grade or attendance penalties for participating in the strike.
However, some departments were not able to reach a consensus on curricular changes in light of the strike, leaving the decision up to individual faculty members. In order to account for content that is relevant in future courses, some professors posted recorded lectures for their students to watch asynchronously. Others opted to simply cut content.
Many faculty members delayed assignments or exams and offered extensions to students who chose to strike. Others canceled these entirely or at least made them optional.
“After a punishing semester for students and faculty alike, as the strike ended I was thinking about how to change the course syllabus to best support student learning,” said Jeffrey Tecosky-Feldman, a Senior Lecturer of Mathematics and Statistics, who spoke with The Clerk over email about his curricular changes. He cited the Mathematics Inclusion and Diversity Group, a group of students who “convinced [him] to restructure the course requirements in a way that gave students both time (all assignments due at the semester’s end) and flexibility (choosing either a short paper or a midterm exam).”
Some faculty members have chosen to modify their grading methods. Students enrolled in Math 215, taught by Tecosky-Feldman, all received 100% on their second midterm, which was originally scheduled to take place during the strike. Students in History 287 are able to fill out a form that allows them to choose how to weigh different elements of their coursework.
On the other hand, some professors never canceled class during the course of the strike and pushed ahead as they originally planned. If and how students were allowed to make up work varied from class to class.
“There was no guidance and no support,” said one student, who found themself weeks behind their classmates who didn’t participate in the strike after their professor chose not to cancel class and move deadlines for assignments. “I felt that not only had I missed materials presented in lectures, but in independently making up materials, I was unable to analyze it at the same level,” they explained. “The quality of education that I received drastically fell because of the professor’s unwillingness to support the strike.”
While faculty members were given discretion over changes to their syllabi, the college did accept the strike organizers’ demand to continue the use of the pass/fail model used last spring. Under this model, professors will submit letter grades for their students, which will be hidden on transcripts by default: students may uncover some or all of their grades if they see fit.
However, many students are still feeling pressure to earn desirable grades in their courses, especially since few other colleges are using a pass/fail system this semester. And because there were no universal changes in grading practices, underneath the pass/fail mark are a set of grades still very much influenced by the circumstances of the semester.
“The pass/fail system didn’t reduce my stress, because I still feel the need to have grades on my transcript,” said Deniz Gonen ’23.
Natalia Barber ’23 echoed this sentiment: “I think the switch to the Pass/Fail model was incredibly necessary, but it did little to alleviate my stress.” Barber explained over email that “[the Pass/Fail model] was implemented fairly late in the term and [her] professors still expected the same quality of work as if it were a ‘normal’ semester.”
If the set of unique paths taken by Haverford’s faculty has made one thing clear, it’s the incredible discretion that they have when it comes to grading their students. What’s yet to be seen is whether the disruption of this semester will prompt enduring changes around grading and assessments.