Letter to the editor: We deserve an explanation


Brian Lucas

Dear Dr. Nathan Urban,

The totality of the year’s afflictions, misfortunes, and failures weigh most heavily upon me. I have lost faith in institutions intended to advocate for our well-being; thus, I am responsible for defending those around me from groups who have stopped listening. And by a personal mandate, I feel compelled to state my grievances concerning your decision not to allow CR/NCR.

I want to begin by extending my most profound sympathies to the Lehigh administration. I realize that Lehigh doesn’t have the luxury of forgoing grades by our admissions rates, the US News and World Report and overall public opinion. 

I am acutely aware that policy decisions are burdensome and laborious. And although they reveal a group dynamic, you will personally bear pushback from all directions. I genuinely feel for someone in your situation. Be that as it may, the email I received a week ago left me bitter cold and sick at heart. It was patronizing and reductive and a gross oversimplification of a complicated situation.

To your first point, you are absolutely correct in stating that we have proceeded without broad interruption. We have gone without a single break all semester, same goes for last fall. We didn’t even get the day off to vote in November in Presidential Election, despite a petition of more than 1,500 signatures. 

Our long-term stress has known no end. I will be frank in saying that Wellness Week was a farce in every sense of the word. Many dubbed it “hellness week.” The collective misery in our lives transcends the natural sorrow any college student could feel prior to COVID-19. National Geographic, The New York Times, PBS, and many other reputable sources have documented the unique struggles among college students, discussing burnout at length. I highly suggest looking into these sources.

You fail to recognize how ubiquitous and debilitating some of our mental health struggles have been. The constraints of the pandemic are not limited to our education. It has mutilated how we practice faith, castrated how we express love,and corroded how we experience other intrinsically human qualities. In a time when we’ve lost all control, you strive to remove more of our autonomy.

This year will live in infamy. This pandemic will be the trauma that describes my entire generation. And to cheaply describe this semester as “not normal” shows how little you know about campus on-goings. This semester has been tempestuous, wicked, sinister and onerous.

I have seen the most durable people I know throw their hands up in defeat and exhaustion. I’ve seen even the most esteemed professors give up teaching material that was once easy for them to share. I’ve seen many of those close to me struggle with thoughts of suicide, depression, eating disorders and substance abuse. I’ve seen people who were once thriving financially deal with poverty for the first time.

Faculty I speak to wish the Education Policy Board consulted them about the grading decision. They describe their personal experiences with students. They tell me that the people making policy have no understanding of campus life. If I could, I would personally invite you to audit some of our classes. If you took the effort to consult a more comprehensive, more knowledgeable range of people, you’d have a different view of our lives.

Your argument lies upon the assumption that grades are already a fair and robust measure of a student’s standing. In reality, courses across Lehigh already lack a standard basis. They always have. For some, grades indicate a single cross-sectional data point. For others, a grade represents a time-series analysis of improvement. And for many of us, our success in a class relies on the failure of our peers. So saying that grades will level the playing field perpetuates a gaping logical fallacy.

You maintain that graduate schools will weigh all of my classes equally. Assuming I go down that path, I’d love to find a law school that ranks my organic chemistry grades over my political science grades. I’d love to see a medical school that weights my anthropology grades over my biology grades. Ultimately, it should be up to the individual and their advisor to select the best decision for them.

You offer a false dichotomy when treating the CR/NCR grading system like a perfectly binary state. There were a multitude of alternatives you could have examined. We could have been met halfway, with the option of picking our most stressful class for pass/fail. We could have been allowed to choose courses for pass/fail that did not reflect our majors. We could have the options of take-home exams and test corrections. We could be allowed to turn in late homework or extra credit. So far, there has been no room for failure and no time to process my mistakes. 

You allude to the elusive behavior of other schools. Quick research indicates that Columbia, Harvard, Brown, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and many more have recognized pass/fail as a part of their grading. They made these announcements early in their semester. I’m unsure which schools you are referring to, but many members of the educational aristocracy have recognized that the value of their degree is timeless.


We deserve a better explanation as to the virtue of your decision.


Brian Warren ’22, a concerned student

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  1. Snowflake—Get a life as college will be the least stressful time of your life. You will never have it so good again until you’re retire.

  2. I thought that this was an incredibly insightful article, it needed to be said so I’m glad someone said it.

    • Abbie Hoffman on

      Thoroughly enjoyed your writing. I was expecting another fluff piece. Cycle of poop just flows downhill, put you googles on don’t want any of that in your eye.

  3. John G. Lewis '90 on

    I believe that having the pass/fail option at Lehigh was beneficial and enjoyed it during my time as a student. If I remember correctly, we were not allowed to take a class pass/fail in our major yet could do so in other areas. This allowed.. and encouraged… the student to explore other studies and fields of interest without the possibility of hurting one’s G.P.A. Additionally, having the pass/fail option might even inspire students to improve their general understandings or even to correct weaknesses. Auditing is of course possible, yet taking a class pass/fail allows for a more rigorous and intimate, involved experience. … I attended Lehigh (in part) because of its laissez-faire attitude with respect to two areas: firstly, the courses expected for acceptance (to our school), and secondly, the classes required for graduation from it. For me, the elimination of the pass/fail option decreases the varieties of educational and character forming options and so minimizes the Lehigh experience.

  4. Robert Davenport on

    When will people realize that not everyone knows what mnemonics are translated as i.e. what is a CR/NCR. I did not know that Conrail and National Cash Register had merged/affiliated. I’m not stupid so I realize it has something to do with grades/pass file. Be kind to readers who are not students.

  5. Robert Davenport on

    I won’t be as blunt as Patriot2 but sometimes companies want to know how people handle stress. For stress how about having an active war and an active draft and you are facing graduation. Life after college is stressful and even retirement has its own stressors. May the force be with you Brian.

  6. Jack Curtis on

    This resonated with me. Lehigh’s assumption of uniform struggles across the colleges and even academic departments was neglectful to say the least. I have friends who can easily do their computer science work within the virtual world and friends who have left the school do to an inability to study music, or for that matter learn calculus or thermodynamics without a whiteboard.

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