Dear Law School Students and Faculty:

In light of the University’s decision to shift to remote instruction for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester and the disruptive impact on student learning, I have consulted with the Associate Deans and faculty and determined that all JD and LLM Law School courses will be graded on a Pass/Fail basis for the Spring 2020 semester.

We consulted with many sources, including other law school deans, our colleagues at peer schools, other schools and departments within the University, and of course many students. We realize that this is not an ideal solution but we feel it is the best course given these very difficult and unprecedented circumstances.

All letter-grade requirements—including receiving a letter grade to satisfy the writing requirement—are waived and deemed satisfied by the receipt of a grade of Pass in a spring 2020 course. In addition, Pass/Fail grades in spring 2020 will not count toward a student’s maximum number of permissible Pass/Fail graded courses. All transcripts will be annotated to indicate that spring 2020 grades reflect the Law School policy in response to the current public health emergency rather than student choice. A grade of Pass for spring 2020 will not be included in the calculation of a student’s cumulative GPA, but a grade of Fail will. Year-end grade distributions and graduation honors will be based on cumulative GPAs as of the Fall 2019 semester.

Law students enrolled in courses at other Boston College schools or other universities should consult the policies of those schools or departments for information about timing, delivery, and grading of their courses. Any letter grade received due to a situation such as this would not count towards the Law School GPA.  

In addition, all final examinations (in courses using examinations) will be administered remotely. All exams will be open-book, take home exams and will be administered online. In light of these changing circumstances, descriptions of exam format provided in syllabi are not necessarily binding. Individual faculty may choose an exam format they deem most appropriate for these exam conditions. Although exams will be open book, students remain bound by the Law School’s Code of Academic Conduct and must not plagairize, collaborate or otherwise engage in unethical or unauthorized conduct while completing their exams or submitting any papers or other course assignments. Students who violate the Code of Academic Conduct and will be subject to discipline and sanctions, up to and including expulsion from law school.

Competing Considerations

We acknowledge that many of our students are now studying in very trying conditions. Some students have obligations to family and are dealing with other distractions not normally present when studying on campus. Some students may be dealing with anxiety about the well-being of their loved ones. In addition, none of us know how this crisis will affect the job market and our students’ individual job prospects. Some students feel this pressure and anxiety more acutely than others. Students facing financial insecurity are most likely to struggle during this transitional period, and would likely experience heightened disadvantages during exams.

We are aware that there are also disadvantages of moving to a Pass/Fail system. Without the prospect of earning a high grade, some students may not prepare as diligently for class, or may not participate in class to the extent they otherwise would. This possibility of student disengagement may add to the challenges of remote instruction. Despite the impact on student incentives, we concluded that Pass/Fail grading was preferable to the alternatives. We encourage faculty to take advantage of the opportunity to provide additional formative assessments (such as quizzes, response papers, short essays) during the remainder of the semester. Requiring students to complete formative assessments will go a long way toward ensuring sustained student engagement.

Some students have expressed concern that the move to Pass/Fail grading will disadvantage students who were hoping to improve their performance and GPA this semester. We sympathize with these concerns and concede that some students may be disadvantaged by this policy, but we could not find a way to accommodate their concerns without incurring still greater costs in terms of generalized student anxiety and unavoidable structural unfairness. We hope to mitigate this potential harm by including a notation on all transcripts and not calculating cumulative rank at the end of the current academic year. We also expect prospective employers will understand these extraordinary circumstances, and our CSO staff will work hard to communicate with employers and reduce the impact of this policy on student job placement opportunities.

We want to thank all of you for your extraordinary patience, resilience, and flexibility during this very trying time. We know that the changes you have been asked to make have not been easy, but we hope this announcement contributes in some measure to alleviate the stress you are all feeling. Everyone is dealing with personal circumstances related to the ongoing pandemic that have added a huge amount of uncertainty to all of our lives. We will remain in touch with you as much as we possibly can in the coming weeks and want you to know that everyone on the administrative team is doing all that they can to keep up with circumstances that are changing daily. We all remain available to address your questions and concerns. Please be safe, and take care of yourselves and others.

--Vincent Rougeau
Dean, Boston College Law School