Academic Policies and Related Matters

The Requirements

The first requirement of the college is presence. Learning through discussion requires regular presence in the classroom in a way that other modes of learning may not. There are no books one can read to take the place of a missed discussion. Learning through discussion implies a sharing by all students in the activities of teaching as well as learning; thus, regular uninterrupted participation is essential for the good of all members of a class. All students are therefore required to attend all seminars, tutorials, preceptorials, and laboratories to which they are assigned.

Students also attend the Friday-night lecture or concert and the question period that follows. This makes it possible for a piece of music or the content of a lecture to be the subject of conversation either in class or wherever members of the community gather. Students are urged to participate actively in the question period that follows lectures. There they may both observe and join their fellow students and their tutors in public conversations with the lecturer.

The Attendance Policy

Attendance in all classes is a central part of a St. John’s education. Class attendance is an academic issue, in that it affects the work of the student, as well as the work of the class as a whole. It is expected that a student will attend every class meeting. Each student has a responsibility to their classmates to attend and participate in their classes. Because classes at St. John’s ideally involve all students in the class making contributions to the learning of the whole, attendance is both a constituent part of collaborative learning, as well as a mark of respect for other students and tutors. Students should take this responsibility to the community seriously and contact their tutors when they have missed or will miss class. Moreover, missing classes can impede student’s progress through the work of the class; students with excessive absences have not, in effect, done the work of the class. In the case of excessive absences, the Assistant Dean looks to the following policy.

Class attendance is reported weekly by tutors and recorded in the Assistant Dean’s Office. These records may be consulted by students and tutors during office hours. Students who fail to meet the obligation to attend a class will be withdrawn from that class and will need to repeat the class to get credit and continue in the Program. Students who routinely fail to meet the obligation to attend classes may be expelled from the college, whether or not they have accrued enough absences in any one class to warrant withdrawal. Students who have been withdrawn from a class or expelled because of absences will usually have to wait at least a full year to apply for readmission and to repeat the work. Attendance is a factor in evaluating a student’s academic work, including decisions about continuing into the next semester and about Sophomore Enabling.

The following guidelines specify the number of absences that will merit an absence related withdrawal from a class:

A student who has accrued

  1. six absences in any class that meets three times a week, or
  2. four absences in any class that meets twice a week,

will be withdrawn from that class. A notification letter will be sent to students who have been withdrawn, and a copy of this letter will be sent to parents of dependent students. After receiving a notification that they will be withdrawn, students should contact the Assistant Dean as soon as possible to discuss the ramifications. Whenever possible, warning letters will be sent to the college e-mail accounts of students who are accumulating absences. These warnings are a courtesy: students always have the responsibility to know how many absences they have accrued, and a student may accrue enough absences to be withdrawn from a class or expelled from the college before receiving any letters of warning.

The Assistant Dean, in consultation with the tutor, may increase the number of absences which merit withdrawal to as many as eight for classes which meet three days a week, and as many as five for classes which meet two days a week.

Although no absences from class will be “excused,” the Assistant Dean will always consider extraordinary circumstances that prevent attendance.

Even the best reasons for missing class cannot diminish the fundamental importance of presence in the classroom. For this reason, students who have missed classes because of illness, or for other compelling reasons, may have to withdraw from a class or from the college. In any case, students should always advise the Assistant Dean if they expect to miss more than a few classes and should consult with him if their absences have mounted. One of the primary aims of the Assistant Dean is to help students succeed at the college; it is always advisable to consult with him about a question or problem affecting class attendance.

When a student’s absences habitually approach the maximum number, a student may be placed on absence probation at the discretion of the Dean or the Assistant Dean. In such cases the number of absences that merit withdrawal will be reduced. Absence probation lasts for one year from the date it is imposed, unless otherwise specified. (It is for this reason that alternate methods of academic evaluation are not permitted.)

Academic Expectations

Students should be prepared for class. Preparation for class is first of all evident in the student’s use and comprehension of the books read for class. The prepared student recalls details from the text and recognizes major points, key questions, and important tropes and images, making use of them to raise questions and to offer explanations.

Students are expected to participate in class discussions. Appropriate and constructive participation can take a variety of forms, including but not limited to: breaking complex ideas into parts (analysis), integrating ideas into larger wholes (synthesis), venturing hypotheses, opening new lines of inquiry, and expanding the understanding of already established ideas and methods of inquiry.

In classes our learning is collaborative. Students should be willing to listen to others, be open to constructive criticism, and have the courage to offer even their tentative opinions in public. In addition to providing original contributions, they should speak in ways that help advance lines of inquiry initiated by others. These expectations concerning participation in conversation and collaborative learning in the classroom are applicable in conferences with their tutors and in a more concentrated way in the seminar orals.

Along with preparing for class and sharing their work in class, students are expected to complete the work specific to each tutorial or laboratory. This includes translations and interpretative possibilities in language tutorials, demonstrations in mathematics tutorials and in laboratories, analyses of musical works, and understanding and conducting laboratory practica. In each case this work requires basic knowledge appropriate to that class, including foreign language grammar and vocabulary; the elements of mathematics; musical notation, vocabulary, and theory; and comprehension of the purposes of laboratory practica and the physical theories related to them.

For all classes, students write papers and essays. These should exhibit many of the same qualities appropriate to student participation in class discussions. In addition, written work should exhibit sufficient command of the English language, clarity of purpose and expression, an organized structure, appropriate and supporting evidence and arguments, seriousness of purpose, and the exercise of imagination. While we value the collaboration and spontaneity of conversation, we also value the focus, discipline, and coherence that can be achieved in writing. We expect clarity and technical competence, but beyond these we value thoughtfulness, cogent argumentation, sound analysis, imagination, and exploration.

On the whole students working successfully through the program become practiced in various modes of learning in different areas of inquiry, such as dialectical discussion, experience, reflection, inference, hypothesis, experiment, calculation, measurement, and analysis. Students read with attention to content, form, and language. They listen attentively to conversation, to prose, poetry, and music. They become practiced in formulating oral and written judgments, distinctions, questions, and arguments, and in looking for, examining, and discussing underlying principles.

Grades and Grading Policies

St. John’s College tries to minimize the pernicious effect that the publication of grades can have on a community of learning. The college does require all tutors to award letter grades to their students at the end of each semester (A=Excellent, B=Good, C=Satisfactory, D=Passing, F=Failure, with pluses and minuses, and I=Incomplete) and authorizes them to decide what elements they will take into consideration and in what proportion. It also requires them to record these grades in the Office of the Registrar. But the college does this primarily because other colleges, graduate and professional schools, granters of scholarships, and employers insist on seeing the grade records of its students and graduates.

Students at the college are consequently not routinely informed of their grades. Indeed they are usually discouraged from having much concern about them. They are urged instead to talk to their tutors about their work, both informally and in don rags. Grades have some usefulness within the college, but in a limited way, and most often as a basis for conversation. Important information about the significance of grades is contained below under “Requirements for Graduation.” A student who thinks that his or her work has been judged unfairly by a tutor should speak to the tutor about this concern. Should the result of such a conversation prove unsatisfactory, the student should speak to the Assistant Dean or Dean. The tutor has the final word on the grade, though in rare cases the Assistant Dean or Dean may amplify the given grade with a letter of explanation.

Incomplete Grades

Incomplete grades may be given only in the case of a true emergency, e.g., a death in the family or sickness attested to by a health care professional. In such cases, the grade that will be awarded if the work is not completed should be indicated. The form for this is, for example, I/C+. The alternate grade given (C+, for example) becomes the final grade if the incomplete work is not made up before the end of the second semester in the case of work left over from the first semester, or by the end of the first semester in the case of work left over from the second semester of the previous academic year. Of course, the alternate grade may become a different final grade if the work is completed within the time prescribed above. If the work is not completed within the time prescribed above, and the tutor failed to indicate an alternate grade for the Incomplete, the I becomes an F.

Annual Essay Grading

If an annual essay is not submitted, the grade is I (Incomplete). The grade of I remains on the transcript until an essay is submitted. If no essay is submitted the grade of I will become an F. If a bona fide freshman or junior essay is submitted and proves to be unacceptable, the grade is F. An Incomplete grade on an annual essay may be completed at any time, but a student may not continue into the next year of the program without some grade other than I for the annual essay of the preceding year of the program. When the condition for any student to continue into the next year of the program is the submission of an annual essay, that essay must be submitted no later than the second Monday after commencement of the academic year just completed. Of course, eligibility to continue at the college may be contingent on other factors as determined by a student’s tutors or the Dean.

A sophomore who has not submitted an annual essay or has submitted an unacceptable essay may not proceed into the junior year until a sophomore essay has been submitted and received a grade that is satisfactory, and the Instruction Committee has come to a positive enabling decision on his or her behalf.

Plagiarism, falsification of documents, and other cases of academic fraud carry a penalty up to expulsion, and may be disclosed in the academic record.

The Don Rag

Within the college, the most important form of evaluation is the don rag. Once a semester until the end of the sophomore year each student meets with his or her tutors for a don rag. The tutors report to each other on the student’s work during the semester and endeavor to describe the student’s overall progress. One seminar leader serves as chairman of the don rag committee while the other takes notes. The student is then invited to respond to the tutors’ reports, and to comment on his or her own work. Advice may be requested and given, difficulties may be aired, but grades are not reported. Students should expect the don rag reports to be generally compatible with, but not precisely indicative of, their grades. The latter are largely evaluations of performance, whereas in the don rag, which is an interim evaluation, such factors as effort, relative achievement, degree of improvement, and the desire to learn are also given their due.

During the junior year, students are invited to choose conferences instead of don rags. Students then initiate the conversation by giving an account of their activities in each of their classes. By the time the students are seniors, it is assumed that they can evaluate their own work. Thus, there is no don rag or conference for a senior unless a tutor or the student believes that there is a special need for one. Notes from the don rags are placed in the students’ files but are not made part of the official transcript.

When the work of a student is inadequate or when the presence of the student is detrimental to the work of other students, the don rag committee may recommend to the Dean that the student not continue at the college. The Dean normally accepts the recommendation of the committee and communicates it to the student.

The Dean may send a letter to the parents of dependent students to report any conditions that have been set for their admission to the next semester or to report the recommendation of the don rag committee affecting their enrollment status.

After the first freshman don rag, the Dean sends a letter to parents of dependent students explaining the don rag and reporting whether or not the work has been satisfactory up to that point in the semester. A satisfactory report in the don rag, however, does not preclude an unsatisfactory grade if work in the remaining three weeks of the semester is not completed or is completed unsatisfactorily. The Dean sends a letter to parents of independent students, unless directed otherwise, explaining the don rag with no further information.

Sophomore Enabling

Sophomore enabling is a review, conducted near the end of the sophomore year, of the student’s learning during the two years spent at the college. Tutors judge whether it is in the best interest of the student and the college for the student to continue into the junior and senior years. Although the grade record is considered, grades alone do not determine the enabling decision. Passing grades, or even grades that are better than merely passing, do not guarantee enabling.

The sophomore seminar essay is especially important in the enabling procedure, since it is an indication of the student’s ability to write a satisfactory essay in the senior year. No student who has not written a satisfactory sophomore seminar essay may enter the junior year.

Mathematical and language skills are considered in the enabling decision, as is the ability and willingness to contribute significantly to class discussions. Some factors that can contribute to a negative decision on enabling are these: absence from classes, lack of participation, getting in the way of the learning of others, not submitting written work, and submitting written work that is sloppy or thin. Someone may not be enabled because the tutors judge that he or she won’t make the effort to do what’s required to be a student here — or because, despite eagerness, and great effort, the tutors judge that there is not the right fit between the student, with his or her particular strengths and weaknesses and style of learning, and the distinctive program of the college, with its particular ends and ways of doing things.

The enabling decision is a purely internal matter: The transcript of a student who has not been enabled bears no indication of that fact. Students who are not enabled but whose grades are satisfactory or better can usually transfer without difficulty to another college and get credit for work done here.

The enabling decision is made by the Dean and Instruction Committee, with the advice of the don rag committee and of the whole faculty. For the Instruction Committee to reconsider a negative enabling decision, the Dean must receive from the student, by the opening of business on the Monday morning after the enabling meeting, a letter of appeal giving reasons why the decision should be reversed or proposing conditions for enabling. Should a student decide to apply for readmission in some later year following a negative enabling decision, a written letter addressed to the Dean should accompany the request for readmission giving reasons for overturning the bar to entering the junior year. The Dean may consult with others in these cases, after which the Registrar will reply to the student. Parents of dependent students may be notified of the results of the enabling decision.

Senior Essay and Oral Examination

Seniors are required to present to the faculty an essay related to some aspect of their four years’ work and to pass an hour-long public examination on it. The essay is submitted on the fourth Saturday of the second semester and assigned to an examining committee of three tutors. If the examining committee considers an essay to be acceptable, that is, if it can be given a satisfactory grade, it will be examined by that committee as submitted; no further revision is permitted.

A senior who does not submit an essay by the specified due date, or who does not submit a bona fide essay, does not qualify for graduation with the current class. Bona fide means in “good faith,” that is, written with the intention of its being accepted. An essay is likely to be judged not bona fide if it falls far short of the expected minimum length, if any part of it takes the form of an outline or consists in quotations without interpretation or explanation. If an essay is found to be not bona fide, the student will be notified by the dean.

If the committee considers the essay to be unacceptable (yet still bona fide), the chairman of the committee will notify the senior that it is rejected, and the senior may submit either a revision or a new essay by noon of the first Tuesday after spring vacation. This new essay will be examined by the same committee or, rarely, by a newly chosen one. If acceptable, this new essay cannot be considered for a prize. If the resubmitted essay is also considered to be unsatisfactory, the senior does not qualify for graduation with the current class. The senior may participate in commencement to the extent specified below under “Participation in Commencement Ceremony.”

Regarding the grading of senior essays:

  1. In cases where a senior does not submit an essay by the February deadline, or submits an essay that is deemed not bona fide, the student will receive an Incomplete, or a grade of “I”, for the essay and oral class. A new essay may be submitted any time after commencement of the current year, but within one year of this date. If a new essay is not received after one year, the grade of “I” will revert to “F”.
  2. In cases where a student submits a senior essay that is deemed Unsatisfactory, the essay is revised, and the revised essay is still deemed Unsatisfactory, a final grade of “F” is assigned to both the essay and oral. A new essay may be submitted any time after commencement of the current year, but within one year of this date. The student must first inform the Dean’s Office of the proposed essay topic.

In cases in which no satisfactory essay was submitted (either no essay submitted, or the essay was found not bona fide, or the essay was found unacceptable even after revision), and in which a year has lapsed from the original date of commencement, a student may still submit a new senior essay. The student must first inform the Dean’s Office of the proposed essay topic. The student must apply for readmission, deposit, and reenroll for the essay and the oral classes for the expected term of completion. The student is not eligible for on-campus residence or financial aid. After the essay is received, a committee will be formed to evaluate the essay. If the essay is deemed satisfactory, an oral examination will be scheduled. Should the student pass his or her oral examination, a degree will be awarded at the next commencement ceremony.

No degree is awarded unless both the essay and oral examinations are satisfactory. The date on the degree will be the date of the Commencement ceremony following when all degree requirements are met.


The St. John’s College undergraduate transcript shows the four-year curriculum, by class, in conventional subject matter format. It contains the grades and credit received for each class. The back of the transcript has the four-year seminar reading list by class and also by conventional subject matter. Each transcript issued includes a brief description of the program written by the Dean including an explanation of the all-required nature of the program. The description further addresses the subject of majors and minors, stating that, if we were to analyze the program by credits into majors and minors, it would correspond to two majors, one in History of Mathematics and Science, the other in Philosophy, including metaphysics, ethics, and political theory. The minors would be in Classical Studies and Comparative Literature.

The procedure for obtaining a transcript is included under the Services, Accommodations, and Facilities section of this handbook under Transcript Requests.

Academic Probation

If, at the end of a semester, a student’s work, including class participation, is not satisfactory in all respects, but the student is permitted to continue at the college in the hope that the work will improve, the Dean may place the student on academic probation for a given time (usually a semester) with stipulated conditions. A student on academic probation, while allowed to go on to the next semester, will not be allowed to continue afterward unless this is positively recommended by every tutor on the student’s next semester’s don rag committee. Parents of dependent students may be notified of this change in a student’s status. If, at the end of that time, the conditions have not been met, the student will be required to leave the college without academic credit or refund of fees.

Academic Honesty and Plagiarism

Academic honesty is expected of all students. Plagiarism, falsification of documents, and other cases of academic fraud carry a range of penalties, up to and including expulsion, and may be disclosed in the student’s academic record. Plagiarism is the failure to give appropriate acknowledgment when drawing on others’ written works. Plagiarism does not refer merely to submitting the written work of another in its entirety. It could include adopting only parts of sentences directly without acknowledging the source, or taking ideas or the structure of an argument without doing so, even when no phrases or sentences are incorporated directly. Students should be particularly careful not to use material found on the internet without citing the source properly, regardless of how slight the appropriations. Students should avoid including passages that have been composed, translated, or substantially revised by computer programs, e.g. by generative Artificial Intelligence platforms or comparable tools. Including such passages, without both the appropriate tutor’s advance permission and full citation, constitutes plagiarism, whether or not the “original” text is preserved in any other document or other location. The college encourages students to use papers to raise their own questions, expand upon them, pursue plausible answers, and develop a persuasive argument; reference to, or use of, secondary sources is not required typically and is inappropriate generally. Finally, plagiarism prevents the student from achieving the goals of writing at the college.

Algebra Requirement

Students are required to pass an algebra test or to complete an online algebra learning program specified by the Assistant Dean as a condition for entering the sophomore year. The test is simple, covering rational operations with polynomials, factoring, exponents, simultaneous equations, and quadratic equations. Help in preparing for the test is available in the form of sample tests and student math assistants.

The test is given several times each year. Freshmen are required to take the test to clear the requirement out of the way. Those freshmen who do not pass the test are required to complete the online learning program in order to continue into the sophomore year. No student may be enabled to continue into the junior year without fulfilling the algebra requirement.

Class Transfer Policy

All transfers must be approved by the Assistant Dean. Because sustained classroom activity is important, the college aims to make class transfers infrequent and minimally disruptive. In the case of unavoidable schedule conflicts, the student should consult with the Registrar at the beginning of the semester. If a transfer is desired for other reasons, the student should speak first to the tutor of the class in order to explain the difficulties, and attempt to resolve them. Failing this, the student should then meet with the Assistant Dean.

The first meeting with the Assistant Dean will concern how the student might continue well in class. After that discussion, the Assistant Dean may consult with the tutors involved. If he considers a transfer advisable, the Assistant Dean will approve it, contingent on the approval of the student’s current tutor and the tutor into whose class the student would transfer. With their approval, the student may obtain a transfer form from the Assistant Dean. The completion of this form and submission to the Office of the Registrar will make the transfer complete and formal. In certain rare circumstances, it may be in the best interests of a student or students in the class that a student be moved to a different class; in that situation, the Assistant Dean may transfer a student without the current tutor’s approval. To preserve the integrity of the semester when a transfer is made, tutors are asked to verify on the request form that all assigned class work has been completed, and may be asked to write separately a brief comment for the don rag committee.

The Assistant Dean will not approve class transfers during the first three weeks of the semester.

Repeating Classes

A student is not ordinarily permitted to register for a part of the program in which he or she has previously registered unless he or she either has withdrawn before completing the semester or has completed the semester with a failing grade. Students who return to the college after withdrawing past the eighth week of the semester will be considered as repeating for transcript purposes. The transcript will reflect the class as repeated.

Audio and Video Recording of Classes and Oral Examinations

Audio and video recording of oral examinations or classes is not allowed, even if the person doing the recording asks permission of the tutor and classmates. Recording adversely affects the candor, the tentative character, and the spontaneity of the process being taped. It raises privacy issues and it places people in the awkward position of having to say no if they might not want to be recorded but are under pressure, however tacit, from others who strongly wish to do it or see no reason not to.

Requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts

According to the Code of Maryland Regulations, in order to confer a baccalaureate degree an institution shall require the satisfactory completion of no fewer than 120 semester hours, or equivalent hours of college credit distributed according to the requirements of the curriculum. A minimum average of 2.0 on a 4.0 scale shall be required for graduation for both degree and certification programs. Keep in mind that F means no credit; D’s and F’s lower the average.

Seniors who have met the state requirements and the requirements listed below are recommended by the tutors to the Board of Visitors and Governors for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts at the last faculty meeting of the year. Graduating seniors must:

  1. have completed all parts of the program;
  2. show no incomplete grades on their record;
  3. have no D’s or F’s on their record for any part of the senior year (the only requirement that maybe waived by faculty vote in light of the whole record);
  4. have submitted a satisfactory senior essay by the date announced and stood a satisfactory oral examination on it.

Participation in Commencement Ceremony

A senior enrolled full-time for both semesters of the senior year but who has not completed degree requirements may choose from the options outlined below with regard to participation in a commencement ceremony. A student may participate in only one commencement ceremony and be listed in only one commencement program. Option B requires the prior approval of the Dean and the President. Questions regarding participation in a commencement ceremony should be addressed to the Office of the Registrar.


  1. Delay participation until all requirements have been completed. If this option is chosen, the senior’s name will not be listed on the current commencement program. When degree requirements have been met, the senior will be included on the program and may participate in the May commencement ceremony following the date the degree requirements were met.
  2. Participate in the current ceremony with the senior class of which the senior is a member. If this option is chosen, the senior’s name will be listed on the commencement program with an asterisk (*) denoting that the degree will be awarded “upon completion of requirements.” The senior can process and recess with the other seniors; the senior’s name will be read by the Dean along with the qualification “upon completion of requirements”; the senior will not walk across the stage to receive a hood or diploma. The date on the diploma will be the date of the May commencement following the date the degree requirements were satisfied.