USG advocates for pass/fail option for fall 2020

Charlotte Block, Staff Reporter

After students were sent home midway through the spring 2020 semester, Robin Forman, senior vice president of academic affairs and provost, announced Tulane University would implement a temporary grading policy that would allow students to select Pass/Minimal Pass/Unsatisfactory for their courses in place of a traditional letter grade. For students selecting this option, they would receive a P for work at the C- letter grade or better. If a student chose this grading scheme, the courses selected would not impact their GPA.  

The provost sent out an email on March 23. “In light of these extraordinary circumstances, the deans of our ten schools and colleges, with the endorsement of the University Senate’s Committee on Educational Policy, have enacted a temporary grading policy with the goal of both supporting student learning and giving students the flexibility to respond to their own individual circumstances,” the email said.

They highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic inhibited student success and a P/MP/U grading scheme would allow students to continue to learn regardless of their learning environment.

“We recognize that not every student is in an environment that is conducive to learning, and we do not want to see their academic progress impeded because of the current circumstances.”

Currently there is no P/MP/U implemented by the provost for this semester, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and 1,369 cumulative positive tests from both students and employees as of Nov. 18. 

As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, five members of Tulane’s Undergraduate Student Government have enacted a Pass/Fail initiative to advocate for the option of an alternative grading policy to accommodate undergraduate students. Members include Carolina Gomez, Holly Steinberg, Ingeborg Hyde, Maggie Amen and Presley Klinger.  

This student initiative has urged administrators that the fall 2020 semester is not under normal circumstances. 

“This isn’t what we exactly planned for so a lot of obstacles such as getting displaced or testing positive or you know not being in your traditional learning environment can create a flux in the way that you learn,” Klinger said. “Student government is in a unique position to communicate with the people in charge of making these decisions.” 

If a student living on campus tests positive for COVID-19, they need to be isolated, which can greatly impact their academics.

 “If you’re sent to Paterson or the Hyatt that’s an abrupt physical environment change. You don’t have an alternative whether or not to go,” Hyde said. “It’s not a normal semester and that’s what we’re really trying to get across.” 

“One thing that I’ve heard a lot from students is it seems to be framed by admins that this semester is either normal or potentially easier and more convenient because things are on Zoom,” Amen said. “But overwhelmingly what we’ve heard from students is that this semester is infinitely harder … The normal reason why universities don’t do pass/fail is because they think it encourages mediocrity. They think that it encourages you to aim for Cs instead of As, but we’ve had so many students write in saying ‘I’m a 4.0 student and failing three classes right now.’ And it’s true for students applying to med school and law school, and it’s just hitting everyone, which means it’s hitting students who are already struggling moreso.”

“This isn’t a super radical idea. So many Ivy League institutions, many of our peer institutions have implemented pass/fail for the very least this semester,” Hyde said. 

The pass/fail initiative team recently sent out a survey to the undergraduate student body asking for their input to get a broader student narrative. Within five days, the team had received 1,200 responses from the student body. The team hand delivered all 1,200 responses to administrators on Friday, Nov. 13. 

“Some of the responses were really really touching. Some students said if we don’t have pass/fail this semester they can’t return back to Tulane next semester because they will lose a scholarship or they just will have to graduate late,” Hyde said. “Each story was incredibly moving and demonstrated how this semester has impacted everyone differently.” 

Amen added, “It’s seeing stories like that make us advocate for this cause more.”

“We hope it will be enacted for the finals season … At the very least that it will be implemented for spring 2021,” Klinger said. The University Committee on Educational Policy will make the final decision on pass/fail.  

Dean Lee Skinner of Newcomb-Tulane College sent an email to students Nov. 17 reminding them of the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory option, extending the deadline to choose a course under this grading policy to Nov. 24. 

“The S/U option may not be used to satisfy the writing, foreign language, quantitative or formal reasoning, and laboratory components of the core curriculum, or major or minor requirements, ” Skinner said in her email. Adding on, “Schools may impose additional limitations on courses that can be taken S/U.”

The S/U option gives undergraduate students the option of receiving a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory instead of a traditional letter grade and was determined by the provost. However, it imposes restrictions on what courses this option can be applied to. 

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