Letter to the Editor: Professors give Provost Holloway’s Winter Quarter grading policy an “F”

We write to point out defects of substance and process in the “Update to Winter Final Policy” announcement by Provost Jonathan Holloway and Interim Provost Kathleen Hagerty distributed at 10:14 p.m. Sunday, March 15.

Provost Jonathan Holloway instructed faculty to make optional the completion of all remaining undergraduate coursework, including off-campus final papers or exams. The Provost told students they could elect to receive a letter grade “based on the coursework they have completed to date.”

Such a protocol is unusual if not unique to NU, and for good reason. Regardless of circumstances, conjuring a grade in the absence of the completed, required course work lacks integrity and is corrosive to the institution of higher education. The University of Chicago and numerous other Big Ten universities have rejected this expedient, and even NU refused to apply it to NU graduate students.

Moreover, the announced directive and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Dean Adrian Randolph’s interventions on its basis violate NU’s published policies on assessment found on the Weinberg College website: “According to long-standing tradition and the values of academic freedom, faculty members have the exclusive responsibility of grading academic work in their classes.” Any changes to or deviations from this fundamental policy — one based on American Association of University Professor standards — require faculty approval.

Professors resisting the implementation of Provost Holloway’s protocols are thus acting according to Weinberg rules. While we strongly believe faculty should show flexibility in response to the pandemic, the assignment of a letter grade in the absence of actual work is unwarranted, and may not be dictated by central administration. We invite faculty and graduate students who share these concerns to consider joining the AAUP and working with us. As we enter the brave new world of online education, vigilance now is especially crucial.

– Jorge Coronado, President of Northwestern’s chapter of the AAUP and professor of Latin American Literatures

Stephen F. Eisenman, Member at Large – Northwestern-AAUP, professor in the Department of Art History and former President of Faculty Senate (2010-12; 2014-16)

Jacqueline Stevens, Secretary of Northwestern-AAUP, professor in the Political Science Department

Alessandra Visconti, vice-president of Northwestern-AAUP, assistant professor of instruction in the department of French and Italian