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Students petition for emergency pass/fail option after transition to online classes

Graphic by Noah Gutierrez

Editor’s Note: As of April 2, faculty voted to approve an emergency pass/no pass option which will allow students to designate any course, including major and minor courses, as pass/no pass. Students will have until April 28 to determine which courses they will consider pass/no pass. More information on this policy will be shared via campus communications in the next few days.

Concerns about coronavirus stressors and time zone changes motivated two students to author a petition for a pass/fail grading system. Faculty will vote on the matter during a faculty meeting on Thursday, April 2.

Students, faculty, and parents have signed the petition, which now holds over 2,000 signatures. 

Colleges across the country are exploring forms of pass/fail expansions as classes transitioned to online learning. Universities such as MIT, Harvard Law School, Columbia University, Vanderbilt University, Smith University, and University of Florida have already adopted pass/fail grading systems. 

Some colleges are still in the petitioning process and are considering the pass/fail system, including the University of Miami, Florida Atlantic University, University of Central Florida, Florida International University, and Rollins.

Ahrmon Mahanpour (‘20) and Nourhan Mesbah (21), authors of the petition, think it is important for administration to implement the new grading system in order to be inclusive of all students. 

“We are passionate about this request because it advocates for a more just and equal system that takes everyone into consideration,” said Mahanpour.

Mesbah added, “We solidly believe that education is not about mastering material and passing exams; it is about ethical learning and improving our community as a whole.”

Students would have the option to opt into the pass/fail system, and they would have the ability to pass/fail as many courses as they choose. Students may also opt for an alternative that grants them an automatic curve of 10 to 15 percent in all coursework, tests, and papers.

The authors’ concern for students in higher-risk COVID-19 areas and lower socioeconomic statuses motivated them to advocate for the pass/fail system. 

“This pandemic, like all health crises, is inherently a socioeconomic issue. Those in lower economic brackets will experience more financial and mental stresses throughout this time,” said Mahanpour and Mesbah. 

The authors said that students in low-income households would have a harder time participating in synchronous learning. 

“Students without inconsistent access to the Internet or a computer will not be able to maintain the same academic achievements that they had while on campus,” said Mahanpour.

Sydney Brown (‘21), vice president of Student Government Association (SGA), said the unpredictable situation will make it harder for students to focus on their academics, “especially those students who must now prioritize familial or personal obligations over courses in light of recent events.”  

Provost Dr. Susan Singer and Chair of the Curriculum Committee Martina Vidovic are currently discussing the pass/fail options. Although The Sandspur asked the Provost for more detailed information on those discussions, Singer insisted on keeping details concealed until the college has reached a decision. 

“This is a faculty governance matter and the faculty are deeply supportive of our students and working to find a good resolution,” said Singer. 

Between Mar. 23 and Mar. 27, faculty deliberated in their committees about changing the grading systems before the faculty meeting this week. SGA President Matthew Weiner will also attend the faculty meeting.

In a joint statement for The Sandspur, Mahanpour and Mesbah addressed the administration: “This is a call for justice concerning the academic, physical, and mental health of your students.”

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