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This post discusses the sudden implantation of pass/fail grading systems at Yale and the sense of entitlement surrounding it.


Photo by See-ming Lee (SML) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes 

I just completed the eleventh week of my second semester at Yale. It was a short week because of Good Friday. (The Divinity School understandably takes this day off, but I don’t think it was a holiday for the rest of the University.)

So, this gave me a three-day weekend to work on papers. This week’s most significant aspect was the announcement of Yale’s move to a pass/fail grading system.

Pass/Fail Grading Confusion

At Yale, the grading situation has been a source of continued confusion as different schools have made their own decisions independent of all others. The pass/fail structure has taken hold in most schools but not all, so it has been hard to anticipate what will happen at the Divinity School.

Even after receiving such announcements, it’s to rely on them because leadership seems to supplement their own guidance after just a few days. Then, if enough students complain about something, the administration may change again.

The email blasts I’ve received from student organizations suggest the students believe they are entitled to a pass/fail grading system, and some have even suggested refusing to move to such a system would be a demonstration of institutionalized racism and white privilege or other such nonsense consistent with the petulant temper-tantrums so ubiquitous at Yale.  

(I think this school would be a lot better if the administration told complainers that they can leave if they don’t like it here. There’ll be ten other people who didn’t get in eager to take each of their places.)

Pass/Fail at Yale College

This week, Yale College announced that it is moving to universal pass/fail. All classes will, therefore, be graded pass/fail without an option for a letter grade. So, with very few exceptions, every undergraduate will have the same grades on all of their transcripts this semester.

With this announcement, Yale College joins the Law School and the Business School in moving to universal pass/fail. (Yale Law School is already on a type of pass/fail system, but they can earn “Honors” grades in upper-level courses. The School of Management has a strange system somewhat similar to the Divinity School’s.)

My Roman Law instructor informed us this policy would affect the graduate students in his course too. Since all the other graduate students in my class are from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School must have made a similar decision. Regardless, I appear to be bound by that decision in Roman Law, so the best I can do in that class is to pass.

Pass/Fail at the Divinity School

At the end of the week, under pressure from students and in light of the rest of the University’s decisions, Yale Divinity School announced another change to its grading system for this semester. At this point, it’s starting to get a little confusing.

At the beginning of the pandemic just a couple of weeks ago, the Divinity School announced the following changes:

  1. Students have the option to keep their grading system under the usual scheme. So, if you did nothing, things would stay the same as they were before. Consequently, unless you had selected the pass/fail option at the beginning of the semester—as is typically required—you would receive a grade at the end of the semester in keeping with the standard grading system (i.e., H, HP, LP, etc.).
  2. Anyone could elect to move to a pass/fail grading system until the end of the semester. (I understand that this option came with the caveat that if you earned an LP—low pass—you would receive an LP rather than a simple passing grade. Usually, if you do LP work in a pass/fail class, you fail. I wasn’t clear about this policy, though, as I received contradictory information.)
  3. Those who had completed seventy-five percent of their course could elect to receive a Pass and discontinue further work in the class. I recently elected to do this in my Theologies of Religious Pluralism course, as I discuss below.

Well, some students submitted a petition for the Divinity School to move to universal pass. It was my original understanding that this petition was to move everyone to the same pass/fail grading system at Yale College. It appears, however, that the petition was to move to a universal pass such that no one would receive a fail. 

About half the students at the Divinity School signed it. I did not. It’s hard for me to fathom the mindset that demands a passing grade regardless of the amount of effort you put forth.

In his response, the Dean said that he could not grant the request for universal pass because of accreditation issues. (As you would expect, you can’t give everyone a passing grade no matter what without running into accreditation issues. That’s the degree mill MO. What value is a degree where everyone automatically passes courses just for paying tuition?)

The Divinity School did, however, change the grading policy as follows.

  1. Everyone in the Divinity School will be moved to the pass/fail grading system automatically. Transcripts will note that the default grading system was pass/fail for the Spring 2020 semester.
  2. Anyone who wants to receive a standard grade for a course may, but he or she will have to complete a form to that effect and submit it to the Registrar. (Some people were upset that this was even left as an option for people.)
  3. The option to do seventy-percent of the work and be done with a class as described above remains in effect, and the Associate Dean of Student Affairs strongly encouraged us to go this route.

So, that’s where we are. I don’t know if I should request a grade in some of my classes or not. I wonder if it would look worse if I had a mix of pass grades and regular grades on my transcript than to have just pass grades if the transcript indicates pass/fail was the default system. So, that’s something I need to think about for Systematic Theology and Hellenistic Philosophy.


The semester is starting to wind down, which means that I have a lot of work left to do on my papers. I’m trying to push forward and get everything done, but there’s still so much left to do. I have the foundational research done for most of my remaining papers, but that still leaves a significant amount of research left, not counting the actual writing.

Systematic Theology

This past Sunday, I turned in my second paper for Systematic Theology. I believe it’s worth thirty-percent of my final grade. It was a fifteen-hundred-word paper that required me to write about a topic one of the theologians that we have read discussed and connect it to a virtue or aspect of the “flourishing life”—a favorite term of Dr. Volf, who considers the “flourishing life” to be the purpose of theology.

So, I wrote on Joseph Ratzinger’s writings on belief and doubt and connected it to the virtue of humility. Even though I find writing theological papers per the instructions and methodology outlined in the class a bit strange and confusing, lacking any real grounding, I enjoyed writing this paper. Perhaps I am slowly starting to get the hang of writing such papers. We’ll see, though.

Roman Law

This past Sunday, I also had to turn in a three-page paper for Roman Law over a topic of my choosing regarding Rome’s use of coinage. This paper was short and is only worth five-percent of my grade. I wrote about the Judea Capta coins that Rome minted following the suppression of the Great Jewish Revolt of 66–70 AD. It was okay, I guess.

After such a distraction, though, I have to return to writing the big paper for the class, and I have a lot to do. I intend to write just the first draft, though, before moving onto my Hellenistic Philosophy paper.

I want to get a draft of the Roman Law paper done soon because I have to give a presentation on my paper to the class the week after next. But the paper is due a week after the Hellenistic Philosophy paper, so it’s more important that I complete that paper as soon as possible. On top of that, I’m going to have another paper due for Systematic Theology that will require significant effort. So, I have to get ready for that.

Hellenistic Philosophy

I had a meeting with Dean Sterling this week over Zoom to finalize the scope of my final paper for his Hellenistic Philosophy class. I don’t know how good of a paper I’m going to be able to write without library access, but I’m going to do the best that I can. I still hope that I’ll be able to put together something good.

At this point, I’ve almost finished the reading I needed to do before getting started. So, I hope to begin writing the first draft soon. I’m hoping to get a draft done this weekend after I meet with the Dean.

Theologies of Religious Pluralism

Things are starting to get crazy, as I’m trying to finish up the semester and write final papers without access to the library. Given the lack of library resources, I elected to write an extra one-thousand-word paper for Theologies of Religious Pluralism and take the passing grade on the pass/grade system.

This will save me from having to write the extensive final paper. I’d rather do my best possible work on my other two big papers than do mediocre work on all three, particularly given my lack of interest in this field. I’m much more concerned about doing well in Area I and Area III courses than in Area V courses. If access to resources weren’t such a problem, I wouldn’t have gone this route. As it is, however, I felt like this was the best decision. 

So, I turned in my first one-thousand-word paper this week, and I’ll turn in another one next week. Then, I’ll be done with the class. 

One down, three to go.

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See Also:

Zoom, Yale, and the New Ivy League Experience

Paper Writing and Basement Dwelling



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