Notice about Winter 2020 Grading due to COVID-19

The BYU Law School faculty voted to adopt a temporary departure from the existing grading rules. In accordance with the faculty vote, all Winter Semester 2020 grades will be recorded on a Pass/Fail basis.

Over the past three weeks, the challenges posed by COVID-19 have magnified. The risks related to the disease have mounted. We have learned much more about the stark realities of home-bound study for many of our students—to say nothing of the staggering challenges some now face with respect to housing, finances, childcare, dislocation, and mental and emotional health. We worry that, for some, those challenges will increase between now and the exam period.

The faculty considered the question from a variety of angles and perspectives. Members of the faculty were concerned that the Law School would be administering exams this semester in a testing environment that had never been used or comprehensively tested, thus raising questions about the reliability of the technology or exam security. Many faculty members were also concerned about the effect that any alternative to mandatory pass/fail grading would have on those students least able to absorb the shocks imposed by COVID-19.

The BYU Law School is committed to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Those teachings enjoin us to love our neighbors as well as we love ourselves. They even command us to “Love [our] enemies” (Matthew 5:44). They demand special solicitude for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40)—the disadvantaged, the dislocated, the marginalized, the vulnerable. Those teachings sit uneasily with the world of competitive grading and class rankings. In most circumstances, however, we tolerate competition as a necessary preparation for the harshness of the legal market and the rigors of practicing law. We use grades to signal to prospective employers some of the things those employers would like to know. But, with respect to this semester, and in the circumstances of this crisis, we are confident neither that the signals are accurate nor that they are worth sending. In ordinary times, the kind and Christian thing to do is to prepare our students for the rough realities of an unforgiving world. But these are not ordinary times, and we have concluded that this extraordinary crisis calls for a different approach.

That approach departs from a utilitarian calculus (What will bring the most benefits, offset by the fewest costs, to the most students?) in favor of a narrower inquiry: How can we protect “the least of these” from unnecessary and unmerited harm? We believe that mandatory pass/fail grading offers the best among imperfect answers to that narrower question. We realize that this requires sacrifices on the part of other deserving students. We are painfully aware of the negative impact today’s decision might have on students who had hoped to improve their grades this semester and who have worked hard to do so. Included in this group are students who faced various personal and health challenges in previous semesters and whose grades suffered as a result of those challenges. We deeply regret depriving those students of a chance to improve their grades or class standing. At the same time, they too are susceptible to the unforeseen impact of COVID-19. Although today’s decision deprives them of an opportunity, it also protects them against significant risks. We are not confident that our traditional grading rules would serve even these students well, and we are certain that traditional grading would not serve our most vulnerable students well.

These reflections impute no lack of charity or compassion to those who have hoped for and advocated a different outcome. In faith as in law, we can share a common doctrine while differing on how that doctrine applies to concrete cases. This is a bewilderingly difficult case with no easy or obvious answer. We have chosen the solution that seems the least imperfect among an array of imperfect options. We are aware that this conclusion comes at a cost and that the cost will perhaps be borne unequally. But we hope that our community can now unite and bear that cost together.

As we conclude a process of collective deliberation about grading, we commend all who took part, on all sides, for the thoughtful, respectful, and compassionate ways in which they communicated their views. We believe that in nearly every case those who made their voices heard were motivated by the greater good of our community. We express gratitude and appreciation to all of you. We are especially grateful for those who will be disappointed by today’s decision but who will nonetheless support it and move forward under it.

Brigham Young, for whom our University is named, taught that in times of crisis our singular imperative is simple: “Go and bring in those people now on the plains.” As a Law School community, we now turn to the task ahead of us—to learn all that we can learn in the time that remains us; to unite as a community in the face of a shared crisis; and to assist our colleagues and classmates “on the plains” with whatever succor, support, or relief we can provide.

As Dean Smith has often repeated, law is a leadership degree, and we are proud of the leadership demonstrated by the students, staff, and faculty of the Law School during this difficult time. Although leadership is often portrayed through the lives of heroic individuals guiding a group of followers, we prefer to view leadership as a community of people, each with distinctive strengths and each contributing to the success of the community’s shared mission.

We are honored to be associated with this law school. We believe it is unique in all the world. Now is the time to show the world what we are made of. Now is the time to renew our commitment to our common cause—to learn the laws of men by the light of the laws of God, and to care for every member of our community with Christlike compassion and concern.

Dean D. Gordon Smith
Associate Dean Justin Collings
Associate Dean Christine Hurt
Associate Dean Carolina Núñez

March 24, 2020