Extra grading time draws mixed reaction from professors


The Berkeley Beacon Archives

The college’s choice to extend the fall semester grading period was met with mixed reactions from professors

By Dana Gerber, News Editor

The college extended the grading period for professors by 10 days following the end of the semester on Dec. 9 in an effort to accommodate the extenuating circumstances of the pandemic. 

The 12-day grading period—compared to the two-day period of the fall 2019 semester—was instituted as part of the college’s push toward “compassionate pedagogy.” This move comes after students vacated campus on Nov. 25, pivoted completely to remote classes, and COVID-19 cases hit new highs nationwide and in Massachusetts. 

“We wanted to give students and faculty more time to finish assignments this semester,” Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michaele Whelan wrote in a statement to The Beacon. 

Unlike in spring courses, students will not have the option to opt for a pass/fail grade during the fall semester. 

Professor Brooke Knisley, who teaches an online course of Introduction to College Writing, said this approach was misguided. She said a reading week for students to have more time to get work done would have been more appropriate. 

“The way in which I construct my courses, I put in adequate time to grade,” Knisley said in a Zoom interview. “This extra week to catch up on things would have been more helpful to give our students more time to manage the onslaught of work that comes with the end of the semester. And by giving the students that extra time, it would inherently pass on over to the instructors, giving us more time.”

The lengthened grading period could potentially give professors the ability to push the due date for final assignments past the “official” end of the semester until grades are due on Dec. 21. However, Knisley said this isn’t a feasible option for her students, many of whom live in China and Taiwan.

“One of my students said, ‘I can’t do that. I have appointments and things that I have to go to. I’m not going to have access to internet, I’m not going to be able to turn something in on time if it’s due after,’” she said. “This semester needs to end when the semester’s going to end because students have—they make accommodations. They make plans based on it.”

Knisley said the lengthened grading period is indicative of a larger lack of communication between the administration and faculty.

“Emerson probably should have…talked to the instructors and asked what we needed, instead of assuming,” she said. “I feel like Emerson is like the out-of-touch parent who’s like, ‘Oh, this will fix everything.’ And you’re just like, ‘No, you could have just asked me what I needed, and then I would tell you.’”

Over the summer, faculty criticized the lack of communication from administration in developing the plan for a hybrid fall semester. Among the objections were safety concerns, the logistics of teaching half-online and half-in-person, and a bureaucratic Human Resources process in order to teach fully online. 

Marlboro Institute and political science professor Mneesha Gellman said she plans to grade everything using the typical deadline, but will allow students extensions on a case-by-case basis. 

“I’ve built my own life and my family life around this version of the syllabus, so I only hope to have to change that based on particular student circumstances,” she said. “This semester is all about flexibility and innovation and being able to pivot as needed to meet students in a variety of life circumstances where they’re at, as well as to meet faculty where they’re at. So I think that flexibility in every way is a good thing, while still making sure that we’re able to confer the integrity of our classes.”

The push for flexibility goes beyond the leeway with final grades. In a Nov. 12 letter from Whelan and Student Government Association Executive Vice President Jehan Ayesha-Wirasto, all faculty were urged to reconsider academic policies that may be particularly difficult for students to follow this semester due to the pressures of the pandemic. 

“As our time for in-person Flex learning draws to an end and students prepare to leave campus, we ask you to be flexible, to consider extensions, and to re-think late policies,” the letter said. “These transitions will be stressful particularly in light of the uncertainty surrounding travel and family gatherings for holidays as COVID surges.”

Other professors believe the extra grading time demonstrates consideration from administration during a time in which professors may not know how best to accommodate student needs. 

Writing, literature and publishing professor Alden Jones said that while she was planning to finish all her grading in the usual two-day period, the buffer allows her to be lenient. 

“There are several students who for various reasons, haven’t been able to complete some of the work,” she said. “I usually require everything due on the due date unless otherwise previously arranged. I am, this semester only, allowing students to hand in work up until the last day before grades are due.” 

Knisley said that the hands-off approach of the administration in encouraging “compassionate pedagogy” puts too much of an onus on individual faculty members.

“They don’t give [professors] any training or resources [for] how to accomplish this,” she said. “They put the burden on the professors to just employ it. Professors are stressed and overworked. They’re not going to take the initiative.”

Jones, who is also not failing students based on absences this semester, said the administration’s push for flexibility has made it easier for professors to make these policy changes.

“It’s indicative of the bigger issue with care that the administration is doing a very good job of showing for the students,” she said. “The administration is setting the tone that they expect the faculty to be compassionate.”