COVID-19 Response from Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

COVID-19 Community Update

Fall 2020 Course Designations

June 22, 2020

TO: All Trinity Faculty
FROM: Office of the Provost
RE: Fall 2020 Course Designations

Fall 2020 will involve an unprecedented transition of the Duke undergraduate curriculum due to COVID-19. As faculty prepare courses the primary goals are to: 1) ensure high-quality course delivery, 2) be able to responsibly accommodate students on campus within socially-distanced classroom constraints, 3) provide instruction to students who must access course content remotely, and 4) maximize our ability to shift away from campus-based delivery, if the need arises.

We appreciate that a transition of this magnitude involves significant complexity and that there is a need for additional clarity about the different course variants that will meet these important goals. Below is a description of the four course types Duke will offer in Fall 2020. After these descriptions, we comment (in Notes section) on how classes: a) should strive for a mode or pathway whereby remote students (i.e., who cannot be physically local) are able to learn the same functional content (Note 1); b) can accommodate combinations of these course types (Note 2); and c) can be synchronous or asynchronous (Note 3). All modes of delivery should be responsive to student disability accommodations (Note 4).

Please discuss these designations and notes with your department chair and/or DUS if further clarification is needed.

Face-to-face (P: In Person)

  • “Traditional” course type.
  • Has a time slot and an assigned classroom.
  • Primarily involves synchronous delivery of course material.
  • Generally involves local students.
  • We encourage remote students to choose other course types (i.e. hybrid and online), however see Note 1 regarding in-person classes taken by remote students.
  • Requires in-person student attendance for local students, except where the student is ill or has an approved disability accommodation.
  • Students will only be excused from in-person attendance with approval by an academic dean, (i.e., cannot be due to simple inconvenience or a preference for taking the class at a different time).
  • Faculty should have a plan for converting the course to online delivery if COVID-19 forces Duke to cancel face-to-face delivery.
  • Because some students may not be able to take the class in person due to personal circumstances (e.g., temporary quarantine or disability accommodations), faculty should have a plan for offering course content to enrolled students to the course remotely (e.g., distributing video recordings of course content, tutorial sessions) and should also be prepared to accommodate students who are forced quarantine, or who have an approved disability accommodation.

If no remote students enroll in the course, faculty do not need to include remote components that facilitate their involvement. However faculty should have a plan for converting the course to online delivery if COVID-19 forces Duke to cancel face-to-face delivery.

Hybrid (OO: On Campus and Online)

  • Includes both in-person and online components.
  • Has a time slot and an assigned classroom.
  • May include both local and remote students.
  • May involve both synchronous and asynchronous delivery of course material.
  • If the course includes synchronous components, it can require in-person attendance for local students, but it should also provide remote students the means to access the material remotely. For example, if there are students in a different time zone who cannot attend the designated time (e.g., if it is in the middle of the night), these students could be offered an alternative discussion section that accords with their time zone, or recorded material that they can access asynchronously.
  • In larger hybrid courses (generally > 60 students), faculty might formally register in-person and online discussion class sections, the latter to accommodate non-local students.
  • Supports a range of course designs; for example: (see Note 2)
    • Live lectures for local students, with recordings provided to remote students
    • Flipped classroom with recorded lectures provided to all students, with synchronous discussion groups (in-person locally, and Zoom-based discussions/tutorials for remote students)
    • Directed readings, with Zoom-based discussion groups organized by time zone
  • Because some students may not be able to take the class in person due to personal circumstances (e.g., temporary quarantine or disability accommodations), faculty should have a plan for offering course content to enrolled students to the course remotely (e.g., distributing video recordings of course content, tutorial sessions) and should also be prepared to accommodate students who are forced quarantine or who have an approved disability accommodation.

If no remote students enroll in the course, faculty do not need to include remote components that facilitate their involvement. However faculty should have a plan for converting the course to online delivery if COVID-19 forces Duke to cancel face-to-face delivery.

Online (O)

  • Course is taught entirely remotely; has no in-person component.
  • Can involve a combination of synchronous and asynchronous components (see Note 3).
  • May include both local and remote students.
  • Has a time slot because the course may include synchronous components (if not, should be coded as AO, below).
  • Students cannot sign up for two courses that have been scheduled for the same time slot.
  • No classroom needs to be assigned.
  • Does not require in-person attendance.

Asynchronous Online (AO)

  • Course is taught entirely remotely; has no in-person component.
  • This will likely include primarily remote students.
  • All material is delivered asynchronously; a student can participate fully regardless of time zone or location.
  • Is not assigned a time slot.
  • No classroom needs to be assigned.
  • Does not require in-person attendance.


Note 1: There has been some confusion about the distinction between in person and hybrid classes given that all classes will need to have a remote component for students who cannot be on campus. To clarify: A course should be designated as in person if the course is designed to be delivered primarily in person for the majority of students - with accommodations for any who cannot attend the class in-person. Therefore, a student who signs up for such a class either intends to be on campus and to attend classes in-person or accepts that they will not have an experience identical to the majority of students in a class. If two or more students are taking an in-person class remotely, we recommend creating a separate online section. This section need not be identical to the in-person class in design (e.g., examinations, pacing, use of lecture and discussion) but the overall content should be the same. A separate section also enables greater homogeneity of grading/evaluation within the section. For individual students, it would be ideal to configure the class as an independent study (note this is a separate section). Hybrid classes are meant to offer course material both in person and online for the majority of the class -- with the exception of remote students, who may need to participate asynchronously (see Note 3). Students who select hybrid courses will expect to have some component of their coursework online, regardless of their location.

Note 2: Some faculty may wish to construct combinations of these three course types. For example, a hybrid class that meets face-to-face and synchronously once a week on campus, and meets once a week online. Such a combination is possible if the synchronous portion can be accommodated for remote students (e.g., by providing a video recording). We ask that such information be provided, both to students and to the Registrar, in the notes section of the spreadsheets provided to you.

Note 3: As described here, online classes can be either asynchronous or synchronous. It is important to be clear about expectations to students who sign up for synchronous classes. Students who cannot attend any synchronous sessions for online classes will need to have approval by an academic dean (e.g., they live in different time zones, are ill, or have an approved disability accommodation).

Note 4: The Student Disability Access Office assists qualified students with disabilities in exploring and implementing reasonable accommodations. Students with medical conditions who wish to pursue Temporary COVID-19 academic accommodations or explore additional accommodations outside of COVID-19 should reach out to the SDAO at for more information.

Letter Grade Deadline Extended for Undergraduates

April 17, 2020

TO: All Trinity Faculty
FROM: Dean of Academic Affairs for Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
RE: Letter Grade Deadline Extended for Undergraduates

Dear colleagues,

As you know, we have been working diligently to assist our students as they navigate the tumult created by the COVID-19 crisis. Now, as we near the end of the semester, we appreciate that many students are wrestling with a host of pressing challenges, including preparing for final exams, arranging summer plans, and, for some, deciding whether to retain or convert the default S/U grade.

In collaboration with Duke Student Government leadership, we have identified several ways to support students as they weigh their grading options. Accordingly, we will be updating our Spring 2020 grading guidance (, as follows:

  • To provide students with additional time to consider their options, we will extend the deadline for declaring a letter grade to Monday, April 27 at 12 PM EST. The extension will also apply to 500- and 600-level graduate courses. This will allow students more time to evaluate their options during the reading period, and before receiving their final grades.
  • We will enhance our support resources to assist students with their deliberations. Academic deans in both Trinity and Pratt, as well as college advisors, will be available during the reading period to meet with students and discuss their options. Students can also seek assistance by emailing
  • We encourage colleagues to refer to our previous guidance (, which explains the rationale for grading policy and addresses the most common student concern: the impact of Spring 2020 grades on their future graduate/professional/employment plans. In short, colleges and universities across the country – including Duke's graduate and professional schools -- have indicated that their admissions processes are holistic, and will not be biased against students who take the S/U grade.

We encourage faculty colleagues to share grading information with students. Indeed, as a matter of routine practice, we expect faculty to be transparent about course grading policies and individual assignment grades. It will be particularly helpful this semester if colleagues provide grading information and maintain a posture of maximal flexibility.

Many thanks for your ongoing partnership and dedication to our students.


Gary G. Bennett, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education

John Blackshear, Ph.D., Dean for Academic Affairs, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Martin Doyle, Ph.D., Senior Associate Dean for Academic Initiatives, Nicholas School of the Environment

Linda Franzoni, Ph.D., Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, Pratt School of Engineering

Christina Gibson-Davis, Ph.D., Director, Undergraduate Studies, Sanford School of Public Policy

Deadline Extended: Summer Session II Course Submissions

April 13, 2020

TO: Trinity Department Chairs
FROM: Jennifer Francis, Executive Vice Provost, and Valerie S. Ashby, Dean of Trinity College
RE: Deadline Extended: Summer Session II Course Submissions

Dear colleagues,

Thank you for the time you and your departments have already committed to considering how Duke can best deliver a range of academically rigorous courses this summer. We are inspired by your ongoing efforts to uphold our teaching mission and your dedication to serving our students.

We continue to accept proposals for courses to be taught by faculty and teaching-eligible graduate students during Summer Session II. All additional course proposals should be delivered to Kim Price ( by Monday, April 20. Please share this information with your faculty and graduate students at your earliest convenience.

We anticipate heightened demand for Summer Session this year as the other opportunities students normally pursue may not be available. Our goal is to announce a full list of courses by April 30, and we plan to notify faculty regarding the status of their proposals on a rolling basis, as submissions are reviewed and accepted.

Although a decision has not yet been made regarding access to campus during Summer Session II (June 29-August 9), we ask that you focus on submitting courses intended for remote delivery. Syllabi should reflect how coursework can best be delivered in our current environment. Learning Innovation is currently developing a set of FAQs and best practices for remote course delivery that we hope to share via the Keep Teaching website and newsletters later this week.

Again, our sincere thanks for the innovative thinking you are bringing to this challenging time.

Jennifer Francis
Executive Vice Provost

Valerie S. Ashby
Dean, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Message to Master’s Students from The Graduate School

April 6, 2020

TO: Master's Students
FROM: Sally Kornbluth, Provost, and Paula D. McClain, Dean of The Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Education
DATE: April 6, 2020

Dear master’s students,

We recognize this is a time of unprecedented stress for all of our students. In addition to concern about your own health and safety, and that of your loved ones, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted your lives and has changed the ways in which you engage with your coursework, your mentors, and your peers. Please know that we share your worries and are here to help.

Our highest priority is ensuring that your fundamental needs, such as food and shelter, are addressed. To that end, we would like to remind you that Duke has established a Student Assistance Fund to provide resources to help students in immediate financial distress. This fund is now open for applications with a goal of providing relief to those who need it as quickly as possible.

We are equally concerned about your emotional health and well-being. A new service,, provides mental telehealth support for all students regardless of your location. You can access the service by using the key DUKE2020.

Finally, we encourage you to stay in close contact with your faculty and programs directors for the latest information as well as academic and career support. We are all in very unsettling times and promise to work with you on successfully fulfilling your educational goals. 

We wish you the very best and hope that you, your friends, and family stay safe and well.

Sally Kornbluth

Paula D. McClain
Dean of The Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Education

Message from the Provost to Doctoral Students

April 4, 2020

Dear Duke Doctoral Students,

We recognize this is a time of unprecedented stress for all of our doctoral students. In addition to concern about your own health and safety, and that of your loved ones, the pandemic has severely disrupted your lives, your studies, your research and your careers. Please know that we share your concerns and are here to support you.

Many of you have shared specific concerns about the uncertainties of the upcoming summer, particularly for those of you who had expected to pursue internships, external work opportunities, or compensated research or teaching opportunities within Duke. In addition to our university-wide announcement on summer arrangements, we want to provide you with specific information on issues of direct interest to graduate students:

  • Duke is committed to providing employment this summer for any enrolled and continuing Ph.D. student who needs it and does not currently have 12-month funding. If you are awarded a fellowship (either external or from The Graduate School) that does not cover the full summer, these opportunities will also be available to you.

    We are identifying virtual opportunities (e.g., RA and TA-ships and work for various Duke units) to provide summer funding for those who do not otherwise have it, and to help replace lost career development opportunities. As part of that effort, we are working with internal and external partners to transition on-site programs to virtual or some other alternative form. We expect to have more information for you about these opportunities in 2-3 weeks.

  • For example, we expect there to be many new instructional opportunities this summer. We are converting Summer Session 1 and 2 classes into online formats and have asked department chairs to involve graduate students in this transition as much as possible – as instructors, as discussion leaders, as technology advisors, as TAs, as graders. Even if we are in the position to have some on-campus activities in Session 2, we plan to have a full slate of remote delivery courses available. We believe these will provide excellent opportunities to both support students and provide important avenues for educational and career development. If you are interested, please contact your department chair, DGS or DUS to get more information.
  • As announced earlier this week, Duke has established a student assistance fund to provide resources to help students in need. Early next week, a portal will be available to accept student requests/applications for funds. These relief funds are intended to cover immediate needs arising before summer funding opportunities begin.

In addition, we have asked directors of graduate studies and deans to actively communicate with you in the following ways:

  • Advisors should conduct regular check-ins with each doctoral student.
  • Advisors and students should discuss and agree upon explicit goals for near term (rest of semester) and intermediate-term (summer), tailored to the circumstances of each student; advisors and their students should use check-ins as a means to see how people are doing in general, to identify progress towards short-term goals, discuss unanticipated challenges, and chart next steps.
  • Departments/programs must provide clear expectations to faculty and students around timeliness of formal and informal feedback, and how that feedback will be provided (oral, written).

We will be back in touch soon with further information and hope that you, your friends, and family stay safe and well.

Sally Kornbluth, Provost

Jennifer Francis, Executive Vice Provost

Expanded Mental Telehealth Support for Students

April 2, 2020

TO: Undergraduate, Graduate, and Professional Students
FROM: Mary Pat McMahon, Vice Provost/Vice President of Student Affairs
DATE: April 1, 2020
RE: Expanded Mental Telehealth Support for Students

Dear students,

The leadership team in Student Affairs is pleased to offer a new, additional service to all undergraduate, graduate and professional students at Duke in order to enhance the resources available to students, particularly at this time when so many students are away from the Durham campus. 

Blue Devils Care builds upon current remote offerings from CAPS and Student Health and offers expanded, 24/7 mental telehealth support to all students at no cost. Beginning today, April 1, all Duke degree-seeking students now have access to Blue Devils Care.

To get started, visit Register once using your email address and Service Key DUKE2020—then you’ll be ready to use the service whenever you need it.

I am grateful to the Student Affairs leadership team for working throughout the past year to make this additional resource available to the student body. Find more info on this new service, and reminders on how to access current CAPS and Student Health services, below.

Take care, and be well.


Mary Pat McMahon
Vice Provost/Vice President of Student Affairs

Blue Devils Care expands the network of supports currently available to students through CAPS and Student Health. Find details below on the range of services offered to all our undergraduate, graduate and professional students.

Blue Devils Care

The newest in a line of service offerings through CAPS, Blue Devils Care includes two types of remote services for students. If you're feeling overwhelmed, you will be able to talk to a licensed mental health provider directly from your device. Blue Devils Care provides on-demand mental health support and gives students a safe space to talk about anything at any time (anxiety surrounding COVID-19, relationships, sadness, isolation and loneliness, etc.).

Q. Who can use Blue Devils Care?

A. Any full or part-time degree-seeking undergraduate, graduate or professional student.

Q. What services are available?

A. There are two services available:

  • TalkNow, where you will have access to 24/7, on-demand mental health support to talk about anything, any time, including after-hours or on weekends.
  • Scheduled Counseling, where you can set up ongoing, telehealth counseling appointments with a provider will be available in the coming weeks—more info coming soon!

Q. How does it work?

A. Go to Register with your Duke email address and enter "DUKE2020" in the Service Key field. You can then choose to have a voice or video call from your device.

Q. How much does a visit cost?

A. It’s free! There is no cost to full or part-time degree-seeking undergraduate, graduate or professional students.

For other frequently asked questions, please visit


CAPS remains open, and CAPS counselors are continuing to provide care for our students remotely through telemental health appointments. Any Duke student can talk with a CAPS counselor by calling CAPS at (919) 660-1000 between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. A CAPS receptionist will answer your call and connect you to a CAPS counselor to discuss your needs and connect you with appropriate services. 

For students residing within North Carolina, telemental health visits with a CAPS counselor are one of the possible service options that may be discussed. For students living outside of North Carolina, the CAPS counselor you speak with can help you explore treatment options in your area of residence as well as the Blue Devils Care services now available.

Student Health Services

Student Health remains open, and can connect students with any support they need, including prescription management for students. Student Health offers video/tele-health visits to students residing in North Carolina. Just call first (919-681-9355) to speak with a nurse to ensure it’s a type of visit Student Health can provide remotely. Student Health also offers support for urgent matters after-hours through UNC Healthlink; you can speak to a nurse by calling 919-966-3820.

Remote Delivery of Courses for Summer Session I & II

April 1, 2020

TO: Department Chairs and Directors of Undergraduate Studies
RE: Remote Delivery of Courses for Summer Session I & II

Dear Colleagues,

As you are aware, Duke announced Monday that all in-person instruction is canceled for Summer Session I (May 13-June 25) courses. We are now actively working to develop an expanded suite of online offerings for both summer sessions – and we need your help.

Some additional details:

  • All advertised summer courses with fewer than five (5) students enrolled as of April 1 will be canceled definitively and not considered for alternate delivery, as our goal is to offer a range of courses online that will elicit significant demand from students.
  • All other courses previously planned for on-campus instruction will be canceled in their present form, and we invite and encourage faculty to propose courses for Summer Session I based on new syllabi specifically designed for remote delivery by April 10.
  • New proposed courses may have exactly the same title as the originally scheduled course but the syllabus should describe the specifics of execution in the remote-delivery format. Departments can adapt existing survey courses, core courses, and other popular courses to a summer online format.
  • We aim to create opportunities for qualified graduate students to play a key role, including but not limited to teaching as instructors of record, working as discussion leaders for sections of larger classes and helping instructors to think creatively about how to move from face-to-face to online formats.

Please submit any questions and all proposals for Summer Session I and/or Summer Session II to Kim Price ( by April 10. The ideal proposal will include a short syllabus describing the course, course materials, an outline of synchronous and asynchronous sessions, and plans for assessment and testing. Please indicate which summer session you are able to teach the course, and if you have no preference (or are willing to teach in both sessions), please let us know that as well.

A decision about in-person instruction for Summer Session II (June 29-August 9) will be made towards the end of April.

If you are interested in offering a course but are not sure how it might be taught online, please propose it anyway, as we are creating a team of people with savvy education technology skills to help you think through these issues. An additional resource for some disciplines can be found in the portfolio of courses housed on Duke’s Coursera website. These may prove useful for thinking about already-developed asynchronous online modules that could augment other materials that you might use in your course.

Jennifer Francis
Executive Vice Provost

Valerie S. Ashby
Dean, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Intellectual Property & Privacy, Final Exams, Course Evals, & More

March 25, 2020

TO: Deans of Colleges & Schools
DATE: March 25, 2020
RE: Advice on several issues

Monday was an extraordinary day for Duke. Our faculty and students showed great fortitude and flexibility in facing an unprecedented set of challenges. The first day was remarkably successful. While we are confident that we will complete the semester, we know you will need to expend significant additional effort to make the academic experience meaningful and intentional for students. We thank you in advance for all you have done and all you will do.

Our collective academic response must be guided by four guiding principles: excellence, continuity, community and resilience. Towards these goals, we write to offer guidance on four academic policy issues that have arisen in the early days of our remote teaching effort.

Class Sessions

Faculty members have asked about adjusting class times to accommodate students in various time zones. We advise against this and strongly urge instructors to hold synchronous class meetings at the regularly scheduled class time. Instructors are welcome to add optional discussion sections to accommodate students, but these should be additional, not substitutive of, originally scheduled sessions. We urge this shared understanding in order to avoid scheduling conflicts with student commitments to synchronous participation in other courses. At the same time, students should be responsible for the content of synchronous sessions – either by participating live, by viewing later, or both. But we urge faculty to not require that students participate live, as some students may face challenges due to technology, connectivity, time zones, and other unforeseen access issues. Live class sessions can easily be recorded and viewed by students at alternate times. (You can find instructions here for recording Zoom sessions.)

Intellectual Property and Privacy

Questions have arisen about the privacy and intellectual property implications of recorded class sessions. The same policies apply on campus and online. The Duke Policy on Intellectual Property Rights in the Faculty Handbook (Appendix P) “reaffirms [the university’s] traditional commitment to the personal ownership of intellectual property rights in works of the intellect by their individual creators…” The policy further states that “recording of lectures may only be done with the permission of the instructor presenting the lecture.” It also limits what students may do with such recordings: “Student recording of lectures, when permitted by the instructor, shall be for private study only. Such recordings shall not be distributed to anyone else without authorization by the instructor whose lecture has been recorded…. Unauthorized distribution is a cause for disciplinary action by the Judicial Board.” Faculty should remind students of these policies. Finally, note that faculty may delete recordings at the end of the semester, or can focus their teaching on lower-tech instructional methods that do not require audiovisual recording.

Final Exams

Faculty have much discretion over the mechanisms used to evaluate student understanding of their course content. Importantly, we are not looking to restrict that discretion. At the same time, it is important that faculty understand that we do not have the technology to remotely proctor final exams in a manner that would mimic the monitored experience in a campus classroom. This is particularly true for classes with large enrollments. In addition, we have considerable heterogeneity in the circumstances under which our students are studying. Some may be in spaces with ample physical space and Internet bandwidth, others may be in cramped quarters with multiple people and limited Internet access.

With these challenges in mind, we have spoken with a number of colleagues at other universities and wanted to share some ideas including: substituting a paper or project for a final exam; developing open-book, open-note exams; avoiding highly time-constrained exams; and creating an option for students to base their course grade on work completed up to the final exam.

If an exam is required, we recommend the following:

  • Design it as an open-book, open-note exam that students can complete within a standard 3-hour window. To account for internet speed and bandwidth issues, we suggest adding at least one hour to the estimated time required for completion (e.g., for an exam expected to take 1 hour, provide 2 hours for completion). Remind students explicitly that the time allotted includes the time to upload the completed exam.
  • Exams should be available asynchronously just as with the classes. In particular, it may be difficult for all students to take the final exam during a given 3-hour exam time, due to issues with time zones, complications with home lives, etc. The window of time the exam is available should provide for flexibility on these dimensions.
  • Exams need not be scheduled for a specific time, but can be “floating” so that students can elect when to download, complete and upload the exam. Specifically, the exam tool within Sakai allows you to set the window of time that the exam is available for students. You may then independently set a time limit for the exam—i.e., the amount of time the student has to complete the exam once they have downloaded it. For example, students might be a given a 48-hour interval during which they may select the best 3-hour window to take the exam.
  • Students should be reminded of the Duke Community Standard when the exam is provided. (This can be enabled in Sakai Tests & Quizzes and Assignments to require acknowledgment of the honor code before beginning the exam.)
  • Please also see the recommendations for assignments on the Keep Teaching website:

Course Evaluations

We will proceed as normal with course evaluations for the semester. However, each faculty member will have the right to include (or not include) these evaluations for any purpose such as tenure, promotion, annual review, etc. The reason for gathering course evaluation data is straightforward: everyone can learn from this experience. Collecting the information and providing the feedback on their course to faculty is essential to learning from this experience. It is also important to recognize that because remote teaching requires different skills and communication styles, some faculty may shine in remote teaching who might not shine in a traditional classroom setting. These faculty deserve to receive this positive feedback from their students. We plan to expand the “free form” comments on the course evaluation template to be able to capture more nuanced feedback from students.

We know this is an extremely trying time for everyone, and we are very grateful for the fortitude and resilience our faculty have brought to this situation.


Sally Kornbluth, Provost
Jennifer Francis, Executive Vice Provost
Gary Bennett, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education

Emergency Grading Policy for Graduate Classes

March 19, 2020

TO: Duke Graduate and Professional Students
DATE: March 19, 2020
RE: Change in grading policy for graduate courses, Spring 2020

We made an announcement yesterday about an immediate change in grading policy for undergraduate courses taken in Spring 2020 – notably to change the grading policy from a letter grade default to S/U default, but to also allow students who choose to receive a letter grade for any course to submit a form requesting this option.

The stress and anxiety created by the COVID-19 pandemic is the primary motivation for this change in policy. Concerns about stress and anxiety apply equally to our graduate students, indeed perhaps more so given the existence of young families for some, dislocation from familial support for others, abrupt changes in schools, childcare and work environments, and disruptions in markets generally. We understand these emotions and want to avoid adding to them.

Towards this goal, we have been working to identify a change in grading policy that can be implemented quickly and with few spillover effects or unintended consequences. As you are aware, graduate students at Duke are enrolled in a large number of degree programs that span ten schools within the university. Some of these schools, and some programs, have specific professional, accreditation and/or licensure requirements that make an (even emergency) change in grading policy difficult if not impossible to implement. At a minimum, some schools and programs need time to consult with external agencies or regulating bodies to determine the extent of flexibility that can be offered. Please see the section below identifying specific schools or programs that will either follow different policies or require more time to determine whether more flexible grading policies are possible.

Schools and programs will move to the following grading policy for the Spring 2020 semester, with the important exceptions for Divinity, Law, Medicine and Nursing noted below.

Effective immediately, Spring 2020 graduate courses will transition to a default S/U grading option. If students choose to receive a letter grade for any course, they can do so by submitting a form to the registrar, no later than 5pm EST on the last day of classes or as prescribed by the school where the course is offered.

  • Some schools (such as the Divinity School) have already adopted new policies that provide for flexibility in grading. The Divinity School, for example, has implemented an opt-in P/F grading. Those school-specific policies prevail, so students taking classes in those schools should be aware of any differences.
  • Some schools have grading rubrics that are similar but not identical to S/U. This policy will therefore be adapted to these school-specific grading scales, understanding that the extrapolation will not be exact but captures the spirit and intent of the policy.
  • The last day of classes differs across schools. The last day for you to submit the form to request a letter grade will depend on the calendar for the school in which the course is offered. For example, if a 700-level course is offered within Arts & Sciences, the last day of graduate classes for The Graduate School of April 15 applies. As another example, the Divinity School has implemented a policy that all such forms should be submitted no later than April 1.

Graduate level courses include 700-level classes (taken by graduate students only) as well as 500-level and 600-level courses (taken by undergraduates as well as graduate students). Thus, the S/U policy will apply to both undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in these classes.

Courses taken for S/U grades during Spring 2020 will count towards curricular, major, continuation, and graduation requirements.

  • Current Graduate School policy requires that at least 24 of the 30 credits required for a masters degree be earned in letter-graded courses. A change in this policy will be made for graduate students affected by the Spring 2020 semester. The change will allow for the number of letter-graded credits to reflect the unusual nature of the Spring 2020 semester. For example, if a graduate student is taking three (3) courses this semester and all three would have been necessary to meet the 24-credit requirement, the number of required letter-graded credits will reduce by nine (9). If a student is taking one (1) course this semester and this course would have been necessary to meet the 24-credit requirement, the number of letter-graded credits will reduce by three (3).
  • There will be no reduction of the 24-credit requirement for courses taken S/U in semesters prior to Spring 2020 or after Spring 2020. That is, the change in this policy is specific to the unusual events affecting Spring 2020.

Faculty will grade students as usual during the semester, and enter the S/U using our existing rubric (where S is equivalent to a C- or above).

Duke will include a designation on students’ transcripts, indicating the extraordinary circumstances encountered in the present semester.

We have reviewed this emergency change with each of our schools and the vast majority are able to move forward quickly with this approach, noting the following differences:

  • Duke Divinity School had already implemented its own version of a flexible grading policy for graduate courses. Students taking graduate courses in the Divinity School will therefore follow the Divinity school-specific policy articulated.
  • The School of Medicine (SOM) is largely able to follow this approach with the exception of clinical education activities where more time is needed to work through the highly disruptive nature of the pandemic and to minimize, if not avoid, unintended consequences to students. SOM will reach out to medical students separately once these issues have been resolved.
  • The School of Nursing (SON) and School of Law (Law) face complex issues with any grading change as their programs are affected by accreditation, licensure, as well as state-by-state regulatory bodies. SON and Law leadership are working feverishly to determine what flexibility is possible. Understand that parties are trying to minimize if not avoid unintended consequences to students. SON and Law will reach out to nursing and law students separately once these issues have been resolved.

There may be programs with specific requirements that we have not called out but which may need to deviate from the policy described above. We are asking any such programs to reach out to their students directly, and quickly, with updated information.

We hope this change in policy eases some of the stress many of you are facing at this extraordinary time, while at the same time encouraging your learning and engagement for the remainder of the semester. More than anything else, we hope you and your loved ones remain healthy and safe.


Sally Kornbluth, Provost
Jennifer Francis, Executive Vice Provost
Paula McClain, Dean of the Graduate School

Transitioning Undergraduate Education to Remote Delivery

March 16, 2020

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

The Trinity College of Arts & Sciences has held two remote meetings for Directors of Undergraduate Studies to discuss undergraduate instruction in light of the university’s response to COVID-19. Our collective goal is to provide the best academic experience possible, given that we are in a public health crisis. We urge you to be creative and flexible, but also realistic in your expectations of our students and ourselves.

Please remember that Spring Break was officially extended until March 23. Classes are suspended this week as students are encouraged to get to safety, settle in, and prepare for the resumption of classes. Coursework originally due this week should be rescheduled to a later due date. All faculty with coursework due this week must communicate to their students that assignments will be rescheduled for a time when classes are back in session.

Transitioning to Remote Course Delivery

Your focus this week should be planning how you intend to deliver the remainder of your course material for the spring semester. Faculty are required to submit updated syllabi that reflect their plans to their DUS and/or Assistant to the DUS by Friday, March 20. They should also be uploaded and disseminated via your usual departmental methods. We understand that these syllabi will reflect your intentions, but may change as you learn how best to conduct remote learning for your particular courses.

Duke is allowing maximum flexibility to instructors to find the most appropriate ways to deliver course content and fulfill student contact-time requirements. There are many suggestions about how to do this on the website. However, if you plan to hold synchronous remote learning, you must record those sessions to accommodate students in varying time zones. We cannot penalize students who require an asynchronous experience. As you think through your approach, we encourage you to consider all possible contingencies – including how you would teach from home, if necessary.

Conducting Assessments

We recognize that another key challenge faced by instructors is how to conduct assessments like tests, as well as class participation ratings. Instructors are free to conduct student assessments, but we encourage you to think about whether you might conduct open-resource assessments. More guidance on upholding academic integrity during this time is coming, and technical support for creating online assessments is available through

Academic Advising for Fall 2020

Bookbagging and registration for fall 2020 will begin on March 23 and April 1, respectively. Those dates remain unchanged for now. We are encouraging, but not requiring, that students have virtual academic advisor meetings before registration. Departments should, however, ensure that all majors are made automatically eligible for registration to avoid any disruption when fall enrollment opens.

Reminders and Resources

For the remainder of the spring 2020 semester:

  • Students are not allowed to return to campus for classes or meetings, or to work in labs or at other jobs – no exceptions. In addition, students may not return to Duke labs or other facilities that are off campus.
  • The length of the semester will not be extended.
  • Graduation plans have not yet been announced.

You may be receiving questions from students, parents, and colleagues. If those questions go beyond the scope of your own courses or into matters of departmental, Trinity or Duke policies, please direct people to the following websites, as well as up the ladder to DUSs, department chairs, and leadership in Trinity:

  • The official Duke response website – – has extensive information and links to many other resources, including guidance on events, travel, graduate education, research operations, and more.
  • Resources for remote teaching:
  • Resources for students, including access to learning materials while they are away from campus:
  • Resources for staff members:

The university response is evolving, and we expect to receive more guidance over time. We appreciate your patience as we seek to continuously provide the most up-to-date and accurate information.

John Blackshear
Dean of Academic Affairs

Directors of Undergraduate Studies

COVID-19 Response from Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

March 13, 2020

Dear Trinity Colleagues,

As President Price shared earlier this week, our university is taking necessary and unprecedented measures in response to COVID-19. This is an uneasy time, and new questions arise on an hourly basis that we are all working hard to address. The university remains open for business, but we recognize that our activities will not feel like business as usual – particularly given recent updates to schedules, campus and building access.

I want to assure you that my leadership team is meeting remotely every day, and we stand ready to answer your questions and assist you with any issues in the coming days, weeks, and months. We have met remotely with department and program chairs, directors of undergraduate studies, and business managers. Our hope is that each day will bring more clarity.

Please continue to visit for the most up-to-date information and carefully read all messages sent by our President and Provost, Student Affairs, and others in leadership roles within Trinity and across Duke. Additional detailed information can be obtained through the following methods and websites:

For Our Students: Student Affairs and the Office of Undergraduate Education are working diligently to respond to students’ questions regarding not returning to campus after Spring Break and many other topics. Please be assured that Student Affairs has a team of people ready to support every student, whatever their specific situation.

Undergraduate students can email any questions to and the answers to the most frequently asked questions are available at

Meanwhile, The Graduate School has launched a webpage where it is gathering and sharing FAQs for this vital segment of our population. As a point of clarification around thesis examinations and dissertation defenses, Trinity College strongly encourages that these events occur remotely.

For Our Faculty: We will all be deeply engaged in the coming weeks with the transition to remote delivery of courses and distance learning that will allow all students to continue their studies and finish the spring semester. Support and resources to aid in this effort can be found at Your local IT support staff will also be available to you throughout this period and are planning sessions to train faculty and staff on Zoom and other essential tools.

Additionally, Duke’s Vice President for Research has released guidance for the research community, which includes recommendations for graduate and postdoctoral researchers.

For Our Staff: All staff who are able to work remotely have been encouraged to do so, but not without first having a conversation with their manager and/or department chair. We are aware that not every job can be done remotely, but encourage flexibility where possible to prioritize the safety and health of our staff, their families, and the community. You can direct questions about unusual circumstances to Vice Dean for Finance and Administration Sandy Connolly at

Your local IT support staff will also be available to help with transitioning to working remotely. Sessions will be held to train faculty and staff on Zoom and other essential tools.

Events: Please note that restrictions on university-sponsored events have been extended from April 20 to May 7. More information is available at

Travel: At this time, Duke has suspended all non-essential university-funded travel, both domestic and international. This of course does not include personal activity, but we urge you to seriously reconsider any plans for long-distance travel and visits to areas that have been significantly impacted by COVID-19.

Thank you for your commitment to Trinity College and Duke University during this challenging time. Together, we can minimize health and safety risks to our students, faculty, staff, and the larger community.

Valerie S. Ashby
Dean, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences