Message on course grading policy for Spring 2020

UPDATE: On Wednesday, April 1, Provost Karl Scholz issued an update announcing that students may choose to convert their letter grade in any course to one of two new grades: SD (Satisfactory-Disruption) and UD (Unsatisfactory-Disruption). More details about this option are now available on the Office of the Registrar website.

The message below (originally sent on March 26, 2020) and its reference to a special “Pass/Fail (P/F) grading option,” is superseded by the April 1, 2020 announcement.


(Posted March 26, 2020)

UW-Madison is in an unprecedented situation, faced with decisions that we have not navigated before.  As a result, we are announcing a special Pass/Fail (P/F) grading option for students during the Spring 2020 semester.

Maintaining instruction and the quality of academics is and has been our most important campus goal, short of preserving the health and safety of our community. Recognizing that our lives have been significantly impacted by COVID-19, our grading and credit policies must adapt.

We are planning to extend the time for students to elect a special P/F grade for a qualified course until May 22nd, 8 days after the final grade deadline. This approach is similar to those taken by several of our peer institutions. It will require adjustments to pass/fail rules and possibly other academic policies.  Enacting these changes is complex.

Under our new policies, just as before, students will receive a grade for any class they take, but also have the option to replace that grade with an alternative COVID-19 P/F grade for courses where this is allowable.  We seek to extend this opportunity to most courses, undergraduate and graduate, but there will be exceptions, such as when strict program degree requirements or accreditor rules prohibit it.  We will work to minimize these exceptions.

We will provide information on policy details within the next few weeks, but we can share one detail now. P/F grades for this semester will be specially designated due to the COVID-19 crisis in a way that differentiates them from normal P/F grading.

Our instructional staff and faculty have remarkably, in a 12-day period, adapted nearly 9,000 sections and courses to an alternative format that allows us to complete the Spring 2019-20 semester.  Advisors and those providing other support services have made herculean efforts to bring their services fully online. Labs and other hands-on courses have had to radically shift their approach in this short window. Students are scattered around the nation and world, across time zones and with disparate access to high speed internet and other learning resources. To students, who are being asked to learn in new ways, and to all our students, staff, and faculty, we recognize the challenges the curtailment of economic activity and the variability of technology has on our lives.

We care deeply about the well-being and learning of our students. We are inspired by our instructional staff and faculty and our advisors and other colleagues who support the academic enterprise.  Please stay safe, stay healthy and thank you for your adaptability, your understanding and for all that you do.

Karl Scholz
Provost, University of Wisconsin–Madison