By: Sarah Ben-Nun  | 

YU Administration Rolls Out New P/N Grading Policy as Classes Continue Online

In light of the coronavirus pandemic and following the model of other universities, Yeshiva University’s undergraduate schools are expanding their pass/no credit (P/N) policy for the current semester. Under the new policy, which was announced to the undergraduate student body on Monday, March 23, students will have the option at the end of the semester to choose to keep their letter grade or — subject to certain restrictions — opt for a P/N mark on their transcript instead. A grade of C or higher may be changed to a P, which indicates that the student passed the course, and a grade of C- or below may be changed to an N, which means that the student will receive no credit for the course. 

For Sy Syms School of Business (SSSB) and Katz School undergraduate students, this option will be limited to two courses that do not fulfill any major or minor requirements. Stern College for Women (SCW) and Yeshiva College (YC) students may choose the P/N option for any course that is not a requirement for their major, with no limit on the number of such courses. Courses graded P/N will fulfill graduation requirements.

Honors courses marked P/N will still count towards Honors requirements for SCW students, according to Cynthia Wachtell, Director of Stern’s S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program. YC and Syms Honors students did not receive any information from university officials regarding how the new P/N policy affects their Honors classes.

Previously, for courses at both the Wilf and Beren campuses, the P/N grading system could be applied to only one course each semester that was not a requirement for any major, minor or core, with the P/N form due weeks before the end of the semester. This semester, not only are students able to see their final grades before making a decision on whether to use the P/N grading system, but classes that count towards general requirements may be eligible for P/N grading as well.

The new P/N policy was announced following a petition started by student Daniel Ferber (SSSB '20), which was circulated around to the YU community on social media. The petition appealed to the YU administration to “make all classes have the option of being pass/fail and yet still count for their respective major/minor/concentration requirements.” As of the time of publication, the petition has over 1,200 signatures.

Ferber expressed satisfaction with the new P/N policy, commenting that he thinks it will have positive implications for Syms students like himself. “I do feel that it addressed student concerns in a way that will ease the stressful environment without sacrificing our serious approach to classes,” he said.

The petition emphasized that in light of the pandemic, transitioning to this model would help reduce stress. In the “reasons for signing,” commenters echoed the sentiment that their academic skills and abilities are hindered during this trying time and that they cannot perform as well in online classes.

Classes were first canceled after it was announced on Wednesday, March 4, that a YU student tested positive for COVID-19; they remained canceled until virtual classes began Monday, March 16, on the video conferencing application Zoom. According to the most recent update from President Berman, all classes will continue to be held online through the rest of the Spring 2020 semester. 

“I’m really happy about the new P/N policy,” said Adina Passy (SCW ‘21), a pre-med student. “I had planned my classes with the intention of needing the grades from this semester to boost my GPA. Additionally, it's amazing that they will give us the chance to see the grades before deciding if we want to P/N.” 

CJ Glicksman (YC ‘20), Vice President of Yeshiva College Student Association (YCSA), expressed misgivings regarding whether the new policy will actually benefit students. “There are a lot of complications that are introduced by allowing students to take classes for P/N credit, so it is certainly a greatly appreciated gesture that the administration is being so accommodating,” he acknowledged. “That being said, I have spoken to no students who find that the policy will actually help them at all, and many are upset that the policy does not prove more helpful to students who are struggling under the circumstances.”

According to Glicksman, many YC students are dissatisfied with the new P/N policy because it “exclusively helps students taking core classes, and those only taking major classes are totally unaffected by the policy change,” since all major requirements are excluded from eligibility. 

According to Dean Wasserman, the new Syms P/N policy was drafted in collaboration with Syms student leaders. In an email to the Syms student body, Dean Wasserman emphasized his “deep appreciation” for the student leaders who helped draft the new policy. To “further ensure that everything is clear,” a town hall meeting for Syms students was hosted on Tuesday, March 24 at 8 p.m., by Deans Wasserman and Strauss, along with Assistant Administrative Dean Debra Pine.

Acknowledging that “choosing P/N is a serious academic decision with implications beyond YU,” Dean Karen Bacon, the Mordechai D. Katz and Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Undergraduate Faculty of Arts, urged all SCW and YC students to view the new P/N policy as a “safety net” and not a “substitute” for academic effort.

But some students insist that the new policy does not go far enough. “Yeshiva College's P/N policy was an opportunity to remedy the disadvantages that students are facing in this pandemic, but it has failed to do that on two fronts,” explained Sruli Fruchter (YC ‘22). “First, any issues a student is facing that warrants the P/N policy to cover minor and core classes should definitely cover major classes, too. Second, by making the P/N policy optional, students who genuinely need to ‘opt-in’ are at a serious disadvantage compared to students who did not.”

Fruchter explained that some students are at a severe disadvantage during this unique situation, whether they are self-quarantined in a noisy home or forced to adjust to being in a different time zone than their peers. “Every person’s home offers myriad challenges, and they vary person-to-person,” said Fruchter. “This is wartime, and the P/N policy should have been responsive to this reality –– similar to what Columbia University did. I am thoroughly disappointed with the P/N policy, as it wholeheartedly fails to level the playing field for all students.”

Photo Caption: In-person classes have not been in session since March 4.
Photo Credit: The Commentator