Seattle University’s College of Arts & Sciences Ceases CR Grading Options

Seattle University students in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) were first given the option to request one or more of their classes to be registered as pass/fail rather than showing a letter grade in early 2020 due to learning challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This credit or fail (CR/F) grading system gave students the chance to remove a class’s impact on their GPA, providing stress relief for a number of students.

Cooper Cieslicki, a third-year environmental studies major, found the CR grading option to be invaluable during a turbulent time in his life.

“I had a very difficult transition last year getting back into the swing of in-person school,” Cieslicki said. “Navigating online school while having a learning disability is difficult—it wasn’t even a cop-out for me.”

Beginning winter quarter 2023, Seattle U decided that the CR grading option will no longer be available. The registrar offered support to students who were disappointed by the change in an email.

“We encourage [students] to seek support and to explore with a trusted advisor the options for how to either increase your academic success or advocate for a grading option and/or petition to address those issues, should the need arise,” the email read.

Through these statements, advisors have sought to offer support for students who may be struggling academically throughout the grading transition. Cieslicki understands the rationale for the decision, but thinks that there are some cases where the CR option could be kept available. 

“I get why they’re removing it, but I wish they would keep it as an option, at least for UCORs,” Cieslicki said. “I think most people were using it for legitimate reasons. You still had to get a passing grade, and I even had a professor recommend that I do it for one class.” 

From an administrative perspective, the timing of the change was deliberate. 

“We didn’t have [the grading policy] in the past and we added it as an accommodation because of the pandemic. We wanted to give more space to students. However, the university decided to phase it out after the pandemic petered out,” CAS Dean David Powers said.

Professors have also acknowledged the command that grades can hold over a student’s life. Philosophy professor Char Brecevic highlighted the duality of grading systems. 

“[Grades measure] the scope and scale of student knowledge, the degree of mastery of a particular subject or skill set, the amount of effort expended across an academic term, intelligence, a predator for success in the future courses or career path,” Brecevic said. 

However, Brecevic argued that there are also negative elements to the way that higher education institutions approach grading that should be taken into consideration. 

“[Grades have a] legacy of white supremacy that privileges certain ways of thinking about academic excellence, a receipt of services rendered and a source of student anxiety and depression.”

With regard to the CR system at Seattle U specifically, Brecevic believes that the shift in grading policies indicated that greater change was possible. 

“COVID-19… forced us to ask how we should think about the putative importance of grades when there are clearly more pressing matters with which to concern ourselves,” Brecevic said.“In addition, the swift implementation of CR grading systems at the beginning of the pandemic served as indisputable evidence that our systems of grading can, indeed, change if we wish them to be changed.”

Powers noted that CAS is listening to all perspectives and considering adopting a similar policy in the near future.

“There is talk about a version that can be similar to this for the future that could maybe be permanent. It clearly benefited students,” Powers said. “What we should think about is a way to have a university standard that can be similar but not exactly the same, but it will take time to produce a system like that.” 

While other options are in the works, students and professors currently face a full return to previous grading practices. With the adjustment period underway, classrooms will have to adapt to the concerns of both administrators and students as the academic year continues.