A petition to move to pass/fail grading for all courses at UNC-Chapel Hill for the Spring Semester has gained momentum, surpassing its original goal of 5,000 signatures in fewer than 24 hours.
The petition was organized by students concerned about the impact of massive changes to instruction and housing to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. It is swiftly moving toward a new goal of 7,500 signatures. Faculty and staff have also been expressing support for the idea online. The university yet to announce a change in grading policy.
The UNC System has not yet addressed how any of its schools might handle grading for the semester or graduation.
From the petition’s explanation of the problem:
Due to the spread of COVID-19, UNC’s campus as well as many other college campuses and educational institutions around the country have decided to discontinue face-to-face instruction and proceed with virtual instruction. While this decision greatly serves the population and protects everyone from potential exposure to illness and contaminants, it puts the students of UNC at an educational disadvantage for a variety of reasons.
First, this system of learning through Zoom Conferencing and virtual instruction prevents meetings with professors and TAs in person. While we can still interact with our professors and TAs through email, phone, and video-calling, there are limitations including one’s time zone, WIFI availability, logistical organization, etc. Additionally, an inability to physically be on campus poses challenges to students’ educational quality. UNC provides multiple resources for students that will no longer be available. Indefinite virtual instruction means an end to the access, putting many students at a disadvantage. These disadvantages cause a great deal of stress for students, adding on the fact that the course load and material will still be the same.
Furthermore, virtual instruction for the duration of the semester would cause a great deal of difficulty for professors and TAs as well. Classes in which participation is weighted heavily would be difficult to grade just considering the first half of the semester. It is unfair for both the professors and the students to have to find alternative ways to measure and quantify this part of education.
UNC is also a very diverse community with students coming from all parts of the globe. International students and even students living in different parts of the country (specifically the West Coast) would have to stay up or wake up at strange times to “attend” virtual classes. For instance, lectures starting at 8 am in Chapel Hill, NC would require that students on the West Coast be up at 5 am to participate in the class. For international students, this would mean really early or really late times. This is unfair to them as the university emphasized for students to return to their permanent addresses during this period of uncertainty. This jeopardizes the mental health of a plethora of students who have to continue doing school work, “attending” class, and figuring out when to eat and sleep while maintaining a regularity that is simply impossible with this system.
Offering a pass/fail option for all classes, including those required for the major, will help alleviate some of the stress caused by measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If a class this semester is used as a prerequisites for a future class the letter grade requirement will be waived as well. This has been done in the past; pass/fail grades in response to a national emergency (i.e. Vietnam War Demonstrations in the 70’s). UNC students are driven and passionate but even under the right circumstances, the amount of work and engagement can be exhausting and detrimental to the general mental health of the student body. We all made it to UNC, we all can do the work. Making the semester “lower stakes” wouldn’t discourage students from doing well in their classes, but rather allow some leeway for those put in tough academic situations. The university has done well in allowing for students to retrieve their belongings and supporting us through keeping student health open. This is recognized and commended. However, this entire process has put a large strain on the mental health and future plans of many students. We urge you to make classes pass/fail in order to make truly equitable policy for this ever-changing situation.
The Students of UNC
The student organizers have noted many of the country’s top schools — including Georgetown, Cornell, and Carnegie Mellon — have now moved to a pass/fail system in reaction to the pandemic, while other universities have implemented a “no finals” policy.