These are extraordinary times, calling for extraordinary measures that are in the best interests of the Law Center. During the past three weeks, the World Health Organization characterized COVID-19 a pandemic. President Trump, Governor Abbott, and Mayor Turner have each issued emergency declarations as a result of the spread of this virus. Just recently Harris County issued a stay-at-home order ending April 30th.
The faculty is adapting to the online world utilizing their excellent teaching skills, and the students are staying at home and forging through these significant changes in the middle of the semester.
After much debate and thoughtful consideration of options and ramifications, the law faculty voted last Friday to adopt an alternative grading system for the spring 2020 term in response to the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic. If UH mandates alternative online delivery of courses for the summer 2020 terms, the alternative grading system would also apply then. Under the alternative system, instructors will assess students’ performance and report either Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory/No Credit for each course.
This decision did not come easily and was made with a great deal of input. We consulted with Law Center alumni leaders, hiring partners at law firms, American Bar Association officials, deans at other Texas law schools, and the Law Center faculty.
Students also participated in the process through petitions and emails, mostly in favor of pass/fail, but some strongly against it. The Office of Student Services polled the student body on their grading preferences. In less than 48 hours, it received 581 responses.
We realize the enormity of the decision in changing long-held practices and orthodoxies. But these are extraordinary times.
The change has both advantages and disadvantages to students, but we believe it is the most equitable way to get through this crisis while balancing the educational integrity of the Law Center. We hope it will relieve some of the stress that the students are feeling as the coronavirus affects their daily lives and that of family and friends. Some of the student emails are truly heart-wrenching. They express concerns about their own mental and physical health, at-risk parents, laid off spouses, child care, insurance issues, anxiety about the impact on job prospects, and having to adjust to remote learning and a new mode for finals being foisted upon them in the middle of the semester.
Faculty took this into consideration as they weighed the pros and cons of mandatory versus optional pass/fail, grading as usual, and various other options. They considered the impact on grade point averages, class standing, summer clerkships, judicial clerkships, and job opportunities as well as maintaining the high academic standards of the Law Center. Professor David Crump favored the pass/fail option because he was concerned that the grading would be distorted as well as perceived to be unfair. Professor Robert Ragazzo was of the opinion that “[a]lthough I am not a big fan of pass-fail grading, I accept that this semester is sui generis. Not only is there unique emotional stress on students, it is likely that many professors will not give the same type of exams that they normally give. We may fairly say that these special circumstances require a one-time change to our competitive grading system.”
Professor Paul Janicke summed it up best when he said: “The important thing is not to worry about past customs and traditions, but to do the best thing now.”
The faculty by a virtually unanimous vote opted for Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory/No Credit as the best means of ensuring students receive the quality of legal education they deserve while easing this stressful experience in very trying times.
I am deeply appreciative of the engagement of students and faculty in making this important decision. Together we will get through this to brighter days ahead.
Leonard M. Baynes
Dean & Professor of Law
University of Houston Law Center
The University of Houston Law Center
100 Law Center
Houston, TX 77204-6060