The message is being sent to all Duke undergraduate students.

Dear Duke Students,

It is a privilege to write to you as the newly appointed Dean of Academic Affairs for the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. I’m honored to work with you and our faculty and staff to ensure that we’re supporting you during your time at Duke.

Leaders of our faculty governing body, the Executive Committee of the Arts & Sciences Council, recently met to discuss urgent faculty proposals regarding Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) grading policies for Fall 2020. The committee decided to allow Trinity departments to choose which of their courses—numbered 199 and below—should be graded as S/U this fall.

You can view the final list of fall courses in Trinity that will be graded S/U here:

There are several things you should know about the Executive Committee’s decision:

  • The change for these courses is to a mandatory S/U grading basis, so no student in these S/U courses will be able to opt into receiving a letter grade.
  • As a special provision of this decision, courses converted to S/U under this policy will satisfy the requirements of any major, minor or certificate program as well as T-Reqs and other requirements for graduation.
  • Any S/U courses you take this fall will not count toward the number of S/Us allowable per year or upon graduation.
  • S/U grades are not factored into your GPA, and will not count toward Latin Honors.
  • No decision has been made in regards to S/U grading for Spring 2021, and any extension of this policy would follow further review by the Trinity Arts & Sciences Council this fall.

Please note that this decision applies only to courses that originate in Trinity. It does not apply, for instance, to courses that originate in Pratt or Nicholas or Sanford. However, as noted above, the S/U grading basis will apply to courses that originate in Trinity and are cross-listed in other departments or schools.

Faculty governance entities like the Arts & Sciences Council and the checks and balances they provide to administration are an important and necessary part of Duke operations. The details regarding these changes were long considered by our faculty leaders and are intended to alleviate stress and prioritize your well-being.

Over the past month, I have listened to and spoken with students enrolled in my summer school course, current Duke students, and even former Duke students regarding their concerns about COVID-19, police brutality, the upcoming election, students’ roles in protesting, student housing, graduation and careers, extracurricular activities, and college sports. These conversations have been challenging, thought-provoking, gratifying and eye-opening. I entered them understanding that many of you were feeling pressure due to the uncertainty of life in 2020, but I came away realizing that many of you are also deeply concerned about a myriad of other issues. I left these discussions hopeful and emboldened by the passion and voice of Duke students.

As someone who is deeply invested in the lives of Duke undergraduates, I know that you are all working through a very difficult year. As you prepare for Fall 2020, please understand that Duke University is a better place because you are here. I miss seeing all of you on campus and I am looking forward to having some of you in my class this fall. If I can be of any help, please do not hesitate to reach out.


Martin P. Smith
Dean of Academic Affairs of Trinity College
Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
Assistant Professor, Program in Education
Duke University