Reed College Administration: Implement a Universal Pass or Double-A System
Reed College Administration: Implement a Universal Pass or Double-A System
Why this petition matters
In recent weeks, Reed College, alongside the rest of the world, has experienced a series of unprecedented and extreme changes and disruptions to our academic system. With classes moving online, students removed from campus housing, all academic buildings and resources no longer accessible, we cannot continue to pretend that it is possible to function as we have before. Our situation now has fundamentally changed, and our solutions for responding to it must radically adapt as well. In light of these changes, we, the undergraduate student body of Reed College, respectfully petition the Registrar’s Office, the Dean of Students’ and Dean of Faculty’s Office, and the President’s Office, to implement either a Universal Pass system or a Double A system for ALL Spring 2020 classes. To do this would be to acknowledge the severe disruptions every Reed student has experienced as a result of a global pandemic, and to protect each student from being punished or penalized for the ways COVID-19 has affected their lives.
With the closing of on-campus facilities and resources, including on-campus housing, students have been forced to pack up and relocate, cross-country or even internationally, in a matter of days. For some students, this can mean returning to an unsafe or an abusive home; risking their own safety or that of their immunocompromised or elderly family members through unnecessary travel; no longer having access to regular meals, stable internet and crucial technology; radically different time zones which prohibit participation in online classes; or not having anywhere to return to at all, risking homelessness and housing instability. Though an option to petition to stay on campus has been provided, ostensibly without a cap on the number of petitions granted, many students’ need-based petitions have nevertheless been denied. Students thus no longer have access to any of the countless material resources and spaces which they once relied on to succeed academically. Many Reedies no longer have the resources they need to access remote learning: an internet connection, a personal computer, a quiet or private space to study and attend class in. Students have also lost access to on-campus resources with the closures of the library, PARC, and IMC, which means students cannot access not only books but the study space of the library and the research support provided by library staff. If they are able to access online class, the quality and access provided from remote learning is nowhere near what it would have been prior to these disruptions; it is not even possible to access many classes, such as lab sciences, studio and performing arts, through remote learning at all.
Students have lost income, through the loss of on-campus work as well as mass layoffs and unemployment outside of Reed, and risk losing their housing, electricity, water, or their ability to feed themselves as a result. And looming above all of these concerns is the threat of COVID-19 itself, which has found all Oregon residents under a strict shelter-in-place order, and which threatens the health and lives of the friends and families of many Reedies. During this time of global loss and grieving, it is a simple fact as well that it is incredibly difficult, not just for students but for everyone living in this time, to feel motivated, hopeful, or able to continue on as normal. There are countless extenuating circumstances which would prohibit a student’s ability to successfully participate in class, too many to consider or grant exceptions individually with the care that each case deserves. More importantly, in a global crisis in which the lives of students, their family and friends are threatened, in which the cooperation of many is needed to keep all safe, in which all hands are required to create networks of mutual aid, students, as well as faculty and staff, should have the right and the ability to prioritize their and their community’s essential well-being and survival over their schoolwork and grades, which have already been irreversibly disrupted.
On Friday March 27th the Dean of Faculty announced an opt-in Cr/NCr program to address some of the concerns above. While this move is a step in the right direction, we do not believe this is sufficient, as it does not address the issue of equity amongst the student body. The opt-in Cr/NCr program outlined by the Dean of Faculty still places the burden on the student to obtain and maintain a passing grade, when the extenuating circumstances outlined above would make it much more difficult for many students to do so, undoubtedly along lines of socio-economic and racial marginalization. Additionally, it also excludes thesis and year-long classes such as Hum 110, compulsory classes which roughly half the student body are enrolled in, for unknown reasons. A C/NC system does not adequately address the numerous complicated extenuating circumstances which block students’ access and ability to complete graded work.
We ask that students receive an automatic and universal pass for ALL classes in Spring 2020, not just semester-long courses; our proposal takes two forms that the administration can choose to enact.
The first is a strict Universal Pass (UP); rather than a letter grade, Reed would place a “P” on student transcripts along with a statement of the extenuating circumstances of COVID-19. We also request that a petition system be created in which students may opt out of the UP system in favor of their letter grade, based on work completed in the spring semester, so that students who want to maintain their grade for graduate school or internship applications or GPA purposes may do so. The Universal Pass system is not perfect though, and does not ensure full equity amongst all students, regardless of their situation. Many students require graded courses for scholarship eligibility, graduate schools, professional certifications, and more. While the Universal Pass system outlined above does allow for some students to get grades it also puts an extra burden on them to submit a petition in order to receive those grades. In this time of extreme uncertainty, where people have lost jobs, lost housing, and may be in the process of losing friends and family, it cannot be stressed enough that any extra burden placed upon anyone is not an equitable process.
One alternative to the Universal Pass system is the Double A system. Under Double A grading, students will receive credit for all of their courses and a grade of either “A or ‘A-” on their transcript. Faculty are able to distribute these grades as they see fit and no student will be penalized for factors and circumstances outside of their control. Every student at Reed College will receive one of these grades in all of their courses and receive credit towards their departmental, distribution, and degree/graduation requirements. For the context of graduate schools and jobs that require a transcript to be submitted, students should have the option to request a transcript annotation explaining the extenuating circumstances that lead to the grading changes.
We also request an accompanying UP or Double A system and school-wide extensions for thesis students, many of whom have been forced to completely change or irreversibly compromise the most important project of their Reed career in the face of COVID-19. Thesising seniors no longer have access to crucial spaces and resources which are fundamental to the success of their work: labs, books, studio and performing spaces, formatting and printing resources, research travel, and the opportunity for in-person work with advisors or objects of study. Thesis students are now also faced with the daunting prospect of graduating into a world irreversibly affected by COVID-19, throwing their post-graduate plans and chances of employment into chaos. Along with the loss of important traditions which many Reedies look forward to their entire time at Reed, such as in-person orals, thesis parade, Renn Fayre, and of course Commencement, thesis students are faced with particularly painful and difficult circumstances which fundamentally limit their ability to complete their thesis fully and satisfactorily.
Both a Universal Pass system or a Double A system is more equitable than an optional Cr/NCr system as it would ensure that all students, regardless of the situation that they now find themselves in, are able to progress in their degree. The optional Cr/NCr system presented by the Dean of Faculty does not go far enough to protect students who have been put under enormous pressure by COVID-19.
In response to concerns that a UP or Double A system would disincentivize students from attending class, which faculty and staff have admirably and tirelessly worked to implement, we have two points. The first is that if a student needs to prioritize securing their and their loved ones’ health and survival over attending online class, then that should be their right, and they should not be punished for it. The second is that we believe many students would actually choose to continue to participate in class if able to, with the relief of knowing that their grade is secure. We continue to believe in the passion and care Reedies have for their education; online classes remain a valuable space for learning and social connection, which we need dearly in a time of social isolation, but without the compounded stress and undue burden of grading, assignments, and assessments.
Our advocacy for these policy changes takes its cues from Swarthmore College and Yale University’s petitions for UP systems. The argument for UP rather than C/NC from Swarthmore’s petition:
“We ALL deserve the right to continue our academic pursuits and passions this semester without worry of the potential slipping or falling of our grades. A UP system not only benefits students of differing socioeconomic status but the student body as a whole. We believe UP is the most equitable response as it allows students to prioritize their health and safety above all.”
From Yale’s petition (#NoFailYale):
“The optional route [opt-in C/NC] discriminates against students who are struggling outside of Yale. Having a difference between pass/fail and letter grades creates a stigma around choosing pass/fail. When employers or grad schools compare students it will seem like students who choose pass/fail are less deserving of the position. That stigma will fall on socioeconomic lines.”
We, the undersigned, deliver this request with the utmost sincerity. These are desperate, unstable, and unprecedented times. More than ever, we are called to come together to above all support each other, and take care of not only our own needs but those of our communities. We strongly urge the college to take up this spirit, and demonstrate its commitment to student well-being, equity, and safety by allowing students crucial support and peace of mind in an otherwise impossible moment.