Colby College To Offer Optional Pass / Fail for Fall 2020

Colby College To Offer Optional Pass / Fail for Fall 2020

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Student Body at Colby College started this petition to Colby College

We, the students of Colby College, respectfully petition the Dean’s Office and the concerned department heads and faculty body to consider allowing students the opportunity to take some or all fall semester classes as satisfactory/unsatisfactory due to recent academic changes in response to COVID-19. In this proposed plan, students will have the option to elect satisfactory/unsatisfactory designation up until the last day of classes to dispel the idea of cherry picking one's grades. Regardless of their choice of designation, students will receive credit towards a major or minor in all fall semester classes. We are inspired by the actions of Tufts, Ohio State University, Amherst College, Middlebury College and other peer institutions that have implemented flexible grading policies for the fall semester. It seems only reasonable that an administration taking pride in creating a more equitable experience for all, takes into account the effects of this new normal.

Granted that this semester has had no significant changes mid semester similar to the spring semester, it would be premature to assume that everything is back to normal. Students were given a choice to return to school, and frankly, many of them had no other alternative. A transition to online learning is something no one was prepared for. Although we had an idea of the format this fall would take, we continue to find gaping holes well after the deadline to take the semester off has passed. For some students, especially those with difficult home situations, Colby and an unprecedented fall semester was a much needed escape - one we are grateful for. While there may not be a significant disruption like last semester, there are still considerable barriers for students to merit the reconsideration of Colby’s grading policy. The student body did not know how this semester would play out, as there is no standardized online learning experience thus far. The absence of such an approach necessitates a more flexible grading policy. Students have been adjusting to an insane amount of change, not to mention aren’t guaranteed continued equity and inclusion in and out of the classroom. Even now, there are concerns coming up which no one foresaw during the first two weeks.

Online learning is not perfect, and everyone, students and faculty alike, are trying their best. However, there is a reason why such learning was never implemented at Colby before. Not only are classes offering varying degrees of success in terms of content delivery, but the unimaginable amount of platforms and lack of standardization have completely thrown student routines in tandem. On top of that, each student’s learning experience is entirely contingent on a professor’s ability to adapt to these circumstances. This fact is unfair to say the least. The growing amount of work some faculty members have been giving in an effort to compensate for the absence of face time is also a growing concern among the student body. Student’s have less time now more than ever, not more. 

Another issue with this form of learning is the growing inequalities it perpetuates. For starters, the fact that different departments have different policies makes it unfair on some students to be forced to take grades at a time when their peers can benefit from their department's progressive foresight. For example, the Biology department has a policy in which they accept major requirements as S/U, whereas the Economics department requires that all courses are taken for credit. Moreover, some students can take classes in person, while others are online while on campus, and some are completely remote learning from home. This sets up an entire dilemma of how one fairly compares performance across these different situations. Students with more in person classes can't be put on the same rubric as students taking classes remotely simply because of resources one has on campus. To simply test them using different exams isn't enough. 

All students learn differently, but the current online learning mechanisms vary greatly according to the Professor and simply overwhelm students while not being able to cater to our more sensitive contemporaries. Professors themselves have not been able to transition equally. This itself sets up some students for better success than others. With Colby's current system and the multiple formats of learning in place, we are simply not being provided an equal educational experience: some students can benefit from in person interaction multiple times a week, and remote students may be forced to watch hour long videos which are posted once a month. The absence of continued engagement is another thing faculty members need to take into account.

Success in this semester also largely results on how many resources one is given. For many low-income students, they aren't just struggling to adapt to COVID-19 friendly programming, changing schedules, completing work hours but are also dealing with stressful and fluctuating situations at home. How can we expect students to perform at their best when they're quite literally struggling with matters of life and death? It also overlooks the significant disadvantage students with paid subscriptions to Chegg and similar websites have over their peers. 

With the absence of adequate study spaces and designated places to attend online classes from, we completely disregard students with complicated roommate situations. The inconsistent library timings and the fact that academic buildings have been closed haven't made things better. Another factor is the differing degrees of wifi access and comfort across campus. While some dorms allow for quiet downtime, many dorms don't.

We should also consider mental health. Not only are we in a global pandemic, but we are also heading into one of the most pivotal elections in this country's history on the heels of some of the gravest racial injustices we've seen. It seems like Colby expects us to be global citizens without being impacted by the world away from Mayflower Hill. 

What makes matters worse is knowing that employers and graduate schools will be comparing students from Colby against each other, despite them having had grossly different learning experiences (Remote on campus vs In-person). This change does not ask for an easy out. It does not call for a universal change in the grading policy. It does not even ask for everyone to be subjected to it - it only asks for your consideration at a time when no one appears to be willing to listen.

In light of faculty concerns, there are a few predetermined thoughts. The inability to see grades before we elect S/U virtually eliminates the idea of cherry-picking grades. In addition, we also reject the assertion that students would simply do the bare minimum once S/U is elected. This is a gross assumption that reflects poorly on the trust the faculty places on the student body. If Colby trusts us to be conscious adults and play our part in holding the hill (which we have more than achieved), they can trust us to be better and learn. In fact, allowing certain students to elect S/U enriches the educational experience because they would be able to learn for the sake of learning and not just for a grade. The presence of a much-needed psychological net would be invaluable. The flip-side is that students who would be electing these options are probably in a place where they can't contribute to a collective educational experience to the best of their potential in the current circumstances anyways. Lastly, it is also incredibly likely that people who would be electing S/U would be affected to a point where there group contribution would be compromised anyways. 

In summary, not all online classes are created equal. The assessments themselves are rewarding not understanding of the subject matter but mostly access to resources and collaboration. The unique educational experience ignores remote students both on and off campus and unfairly sets them up against those students who are able to take classes in person. The technical transition and lack of standardization in the form of numerous third-party websites and services has made it incredibly hard to navigate the digital space while Colby fails to provide adequate study spaces. There has been no consideration made for student mental health as students grapple with holding the hill at both Colby and home while navigating an ever-changing college landscape. 

You have talked a big game about being “One Colby.” We have done our part, and we respectfully ask that you do yours.


We look forward to your response and thank you for your efforts. 


A bunch of tired mules.



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