Coronavirus Updates

Academic Policies for Spring 2020

Temporary academic policies to help support our transition to remote teaching and learning.

Academic Policies in Effect for Spring 2020

The following temporary academic policies for the College and Graduate School (applicable only during the Spring 2020 semester) are designed to support the active participation of both instructors and students during the transition to remote instruction, and to underscore the need for flexibility and understanding during this unprecedented moment. We strongly encourage all instructors and students to carefully review the detailed policies below, which include:

  • guidance to prioritize asynchronous instruction that enables student access at any time
  • guidance on final examinations and alternative assessments
  • guidelines for remote dissertation and thesis defenses
  • maintenance of important deadlines for degree clearance and graduation
  • opportunities for both instructor and student changes to grade options
  • postponement of fall pre-registration and concentration declaration deadlines
  • requirements to hold any synchronous class meetings during scheduled class times and to record synchronous sessions for equity and accessibility


As stated in the Provost’s message of March 14, students should not be expected to complete any assignments or midterms with due dates between March 15 and March 30.


Instructors must provide students, no later than Friday April 3, an addendum or updated syllabus with a revised course plan for the remainder of the semester (including key learning goals, description of remaining assignments, and any modifications to assessments/weighting). 


For equity and accessibility, upon the resumption of classes on March 30, instructors should prioritize asynchronous instruction to allow students access at any time.

  • Synchronous course meetings should be held within originally scheduled class times EDT. Instructors may adopt alternative synchronous meeting times when agreed upon by all students. Alternative times must be reported to the department chair, who will forward this information to the College Curriculum Council and Graduate Council using this form.

  • Synchronous course meetings should be recorded to accommodate students who may not be able to attend class for a variety of reasons, and further to facilitate transcription for accessibility. Information about recordings, including issues of security, privacy, and copyright can be found here. In lieu of recording, instructors may make alternative arrangements to support students who may need to miss some or all synchronous sessions. Alternative arrangements must be reported to the department chair, who will forward this information to the College Curriculum Council and Graduate Council using this form.

  • Instructors should recognize that attendance and participation during synchronous class meetings may no longer be good measures of class engagement, and are therefore encouraged to adopt other means of assessment and support. (For other ways to assess participation, please see the Sheridan guide, Fostering and Assessing Classroom Participation.)
  • Instructors should stay in close communication with their students, and must continue to be available to students remotely during regular office hours or other appropriately arranged meetings (preferably in modalities and at times that are convenient for both them and their students). 

Early Completion Exceptions

The University expects that the vast majority of courses will successfully transition to remote instruction. In very exceptional cases, it may be possible to conclude courses early that cannot be transitioned to remote instruction, if they have already achieved their learning goals and completed sufficient work consistent with Brown’s academic credit hour guidance. If, after consultation with appropriate technical and instructional support units, an instructor finds that remote instruction is not feasible for a course, this must be brought to the attention of the department chair, who must petition the Office of the Provost for approval of early conclusion of a course based on completed work by a specified date.


Even with adjustments to assignments, we recognize that some fraction of students may not be able to complete a course within the bounds of the semester. In exceptional circumstances where a student must receive a grade of Incomplete (INC), we ask that instructors consider and communicate to the student the structures and resources that will be available to the student beyond the end of the term to support the student’s completion of the course. Grades of Incomplete obligate instructors to continue to support students as they complete the course, and instructors should be mindful that their teaching assistants’ obligations end with the close of the semester.

Teaching Assistants

Faculty supervising graduate and undergraduate Teaching Assistants (TAs) and graduate Teaching Fellows should be in regular contact with the students teaching in their courses. Should any student serving as a TA or instructor have difficulty fulfilling their responsibilities remotely, please notify the department chair, who should then contact [email protected] and/or [email protected]. We ask that departments also remain in regular contact with graduate students serving as Independent Instructors.

As described below, postponing the concentration declaration deadlines will allow students and faculty to focus on the transitions to remote work and will provide additional time for students to meet with their concentration advisors remotely in advance of submitting their declarations in ASK. Delaying pre-registration will allow students to make more informed decisions about course selection for the fall, following the completion of their current courses. Students may still pre-register for summer courses beginning March 30, 2020. 

Concentration Declarations

The deadline to declare a concentration for students in the fourth semester and for transfer students who entered Brown with fourth or fifth semester standing will be moved to 5:00 p.m. EDT on June 1, 2020. Students are welcome to submit concentration declarations at any time, and are encouraged to submit as soon as their time permits.

Declaration Approval

The deadline for concentration advisors to approve declarations of fourth or fifth semester students will be moved to 5:00 pm EDT on June 9, 2020. Advisors are encouraged to review and approve submitted concentration forms as time permits.


Preregistration for the fall semester will be moved to June 15 at 10:00 am EDT through 5:00 pm EDT on June 20, 2020.

  • As is typically the case, undergraduate students entering semesters 2-4 will need an alt-pin from their advisor or an academic dean in order to pre-register. Students entering the 5th semester will not be able to pre-register without an approved declaration. Students who are not able to connect with their advisor may contact an academic dean by emailing [email protected].

As described below, the decision to allow both instructors, in exceptional cases, and students to change grade options was made after extensive deliberation and feedback from students and faculty, as well as review of the policy approaches of other colleges and universities in this unique moment. We considered a range of policy options from no changes this semester to mandatory S/NC for all courses. In the end, we decided that no uniform policy could address the breadth of courses and personal circumstances. We also understood that the primary choice regarding grade options at Brown generally resides with students after a period of reflection in the course, and thus, wanted to provide students with this opportunity again after experiencing a period of remote instruction.

Student Grade Options

For all courses that are not mandatory S/NC, individual students will be able to modify their grade options from 9 a.m. EDT on Monday, April 13 until 5 p.m. EDT on Friday, May 1. We encourage students to reflect on which grade option (ABC/NC or S/NC) would best support their intellectual and personal development. Students should also understand that employers as well as graduate and professional schools will likely review grades this semester within the broader context of the global pandemic. 

Graduate Programs S/NC

Graduate students in professional programs (e.g., in the School of Public Health) should consult with their Director of Graduate Studies to ensure that an S/NC option is possible in light of accreditation requirements.

Mandatory S/NC Petitions

In exceptional cases where an instructor believes that, in light of the modifications made for remote instruction, it would not be feasible to assign letter grades, the instructor may petition for a late change of the course to mandatory Satisfactory/No credit (S/NC). Petitions may be submitted at any time up until April 3 to a joint subcommittee of the College Curriculum Council and Graduate Council. 

  • We ask that instructors not announce course-wide changes to students until after a decision has been rendered by CCC/Graduate Council, because it is anticipated that not all petitions will be approved. (The decision to switch to mandatory S/NC in a course where students have already elected ABC/NC grades is considered a significant change that warrants justification and review.)
  • Instructors should also know that in courses offered on a mandatory S/NC basis, the instructor is obligated to write a Course Performance Report for any enrolled student who requests one. 
  • In courses where a change to mandatory S/NC is approved, all students who had previously requested to take the course ABC/NC will receive a transcript notation indicating it was their intent to take the course for a letter grade.
  • Consistent with Faculty Rules and Regulations, instructors should award a grade of “S with distinction” to students whose performance would be equivalent to an “A” had the course been taken for a letter grade. While “S with distinction” grades do not appear on the internal record or official transcript, and thus are not visible to the student or external audiences, they are included in the calculation of Latin honors (magna cum laude) as well as requirements for programs that consider the number or proportion of “A” or “S with Distinction” grades.

Although Commencement has been postponed, the University intends to award graduating students with their degrees in a virtual ceremony on Memorial Day Weekend. In order to proceed with the official conferral of degrees, certain key deadlines must be upheld. 

Blue Forms

No later than March 27, departments must submit their undergraduate degree clearance forms (also known as “blue forms”) to the Office of the Registrar using the new online system for remote submission and review.


May 1 remains the deadline for departments to submit names of students receiving honors in the concentration. Maintaining this deadline ensures that students are able to shift their focus to completing all their coursework this semester for degree completion. Thesis advisors and Directors of Undergraduate Studies should modify their expectations accordingly and discuss these with honors candidates. 

Graduate Theses

May 1 remains the deadline for submission of graduate theses and dissertations. Maintaining this deadline ensures that graduate students can receive their degrees in a timely fashion this semester.


Graduate thesis and dissertation defenses should be conducted via Zoom or similar teleconferencing means. Any recordings of the defense must be approved by the student. All paperwork, including signature pages, can be submitted electronically. In cases where dissertation committee members agree, graduate programs can decide to waive the public defense requirement.

Graduate Program Adjustments

Graduate programs are also encouraged to consider adjustments to the structure, order, and timing of program requirements (e.g., preliminary and qualifying exams scheduled for this spring). Adjustments and accommodations should be made at the program level, rather than by individual advisors or committee members. Significant adjustments to requirements must be approved by the Graduate School. Students with concerns about specific requirements should email [email protected].

Final Grades

Final grades must be submitted within 48 hours of the scheduled exam and no later than 5pm on Saturday May 16 for students scheduled to receive degrees from the College or Graduate School. (Final grades for all other students must be submitted within 72 hours of the scheduled exam and no later than 5pm on Sunday May 17, 2020.) Maintaining these deadlines is critical to ensuring that degrees can be conferred this semester and that final work is distributed throughout the final exam period.

Exam Schedule

The last day of classes will be Tuesday May 5, 2020. The regularly scheduled final examination period (May 6 - May 15) will be maintained to serve as a time for faculty and students to complete course requirements. Courses may not meet and instructors may not present new material during the final exam period.

Final Exam Formats

For reasons of access and equity as well as academic integrity, instructors are requested to offer asynchronous take-home (open book) exams, final papers, final projects, or offer a series of smaller low-stakes assessments in lieu of a final exam. Midterms and final exams should be revised to reflect changes to course content and format.

  • Instructors who wish to hold a synchronous final exam for their course should petition for an exemption. Petitions must be submitted by April 3 to a joint subcommittee of the College Curriculum Council and Graduate Council.

Instructors and teaching assistants will benefit from student feedback about their experiences during this exceptional period, particularly with new pedagogical approaches and new means of supporting student learning.

Feedback Process

As such, we will proceed with the standard course feedback process, which will open to students on April 27 during the last full week of instruction. [New items addressing the transition to remote instruction will be added to the optional item bank, and instructors may contact [email protected] for support adding customized questions.]

Dossier Option

However, given the extraordinary circumstances, instructors may decide whether this semester’s course feedback information is included within their dossier for considerations in reappointment, tenure and promotion reviews. Graduate students - either those serving as primary instructors or as teaching assistants - who may be seeking to use this semester’s student course feedback in job applications are encouraged to frame this feedback in the context of the exceptional circumstances related to the global pandemic.