Pass/Fail grading option at Columbia/Barnard

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On March 8, 2020, Columbia University and Barnard College first announced the closure of the University for March 9th and 10th, which would be followed by a transition to online classes for the remainder of the week and for the week following spring break (until March 27th). On March 12, 2020, faced with the international spread of COVID-19, Columbia University (CU) and Barnard College (BC) decided not to return to in-person instruction for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. In this effort, they urged students to move back to their permanent residences, if possible, for the remainder of the term. 

We, as students, recognize how difficult a decision to move to online instruction is and thank the University for putting our safety above all else. Given that COVID-19 has forced all classes to be conducted online via Zoom, we believe that the appropriate action that the University should take is to make all classes have the option of being pass/fail and yet still count for their respective major/minor/concentration requirements.

On March 13, 2020, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that they would be transitioning to their alternate grading policy, which is a structure of pass/fail grading in the event of significant disruption outlined in Article 2.64 of their rules and regulations manual. Additionally, Smith College also announced their decision to transition into pass/fail grading for their student body. As a University of similar rigor to MIT and Smith College, we request that CU and BC put a similar policy in place for the student body. 

Transitioning to pass/fail grading would help reduce student stress to counteract the additional stress caused by COVID-19. Additionally, there are many personal difficulties that people may have to deal with: time zones, financially difficult times, access to Internet, access to quiet study spaces, and unexpected home responsibilities (jobs, taking care of family members). Moreover, many students also face the difficulty of a time zone change restricting them from partaking in class and preventing them from speaking to their professors during school hours. Even more so, with the suspension of in-person activities, CU’s stress-coping mechanisms that exist on campus are less available to students and academically, and many students rely on in-person office hours and review sessions for in-depth learning. Hence, creating an opt-in pass/fail option will provide the much needed relief to students in this unexpected turn in the semester. 

In this vein, we would also like to propose the option to maintain letter grading OR pass/fail with pass/failing still going towards the degree requirements. We recognize that some students need letter grades to be eligible for Medical School or Law School or otherwise and would not like to hinder their ability to seek higher education. We would like to request that all pass/fail grades provide an asterisk (*) denoting at the bottom that the grade change was due to COVID-19 which prevented in-person instruction. 

We hope that the University enacts this change to the benefit of the entire student community and allows students to pass/fail courses for credit without any penalty.

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