Pass/Fail Grading Option for University of Minnesota Students

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On March 16, University of Minnesota announced that classes will continue online for the remainder of the semester.

We appreciate the response from the university to place the well-being of its students at the forefront. We also understand the difficulty of the decision and appreciate the care of the instructors in working hard to transition to an online coursework. However, the sudden change has a left a large majority of the students under emotional stress regarding the academic consequences. We believe that a change must be made on the grading basis to reflect the transition. The proposal suggested is in line with the actions taken by universities such as Harvard University, Cornell University, Georgetown University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Carnegie Mellon University for their grading policy. Several other universities are following suit. The UMN must implement a similar policy so that its students remain competitive when applying for graduate schools or employment.

We propose that students should have an option to continue to receive letter grades or to transition onto an emergency pass/fail (S/N) grading basis for all courses (including major/minor) which will still count towards degree completion.

The added stress of coursework on mental health during these unprecedented times can cause students to underperform and will not be reflective of their true potential. A change in the grading basis will help alleviate some of the emotional burden and allow them to academically progress.

The diversity in our student population means that there will be students whose families and hometowns are severely affected by COVID-19. Additionally, many of the students will not be able to go back home and will have to resort to isolation on-campus. The university has also shutdown access to all libraries and laboratories which makes it difficult to have a safe and quiet place to study. The suspension of student activities and campus programs that help with the emotional welfare of the students further hinders stress coping mechanisms of many students. The current situation also means that students may have a multitude of personal difficulties: lack of reliable internet, financial burdens, home responsibilities, relocation and health issues. This will all negatively affect the well-being of a student and will be reflected on their academic work.

The transition to online learning will mean difficulty for a lot of students to adapt to a learning framework that they may have not experienced. The instructors will also face a learning curve to teach in the platform. Similarly, a lot of the courses are not suited for the online format which adds to the difficulty in learning the material. As a result, technical difficulties, mistakes and miscommunications are bound to occur.

A portion of the students will find it hard to be able to intake the same level of knowledge as they would in-person. Moreover, students that have moved back home to places with large time-zone differences will be at a disadvantage in their classes. Students will not all be on equal footing as their success in the coursework will depend on their comfortability with the platform, level of resources and current personal situation.

The courses will not be aligned to the teaching standards of the university and must be graded differently to reflect the change. We reiterate that this grading will be purely optional. The students who wish to keep their criteria from A-F must have the option to retain their grades. The university needs to consider changing the grading policy to counteract the pitfalls of the transition to an online coursework.

We appreciate the swift and thoughtful response of the university to the pandemic and hope that it will continue to take action to support the well-being of its students. 

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