Make All Courses at CSUs Pass/Fail for Spring 2020 Due to Covid-19 Closures

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The support for this petition comes from the article "Make All Courses Pass/Fail Now" by Allison Stanger, published on March 19, 2020 at The Chronicle.


“Some institutions in recent weeks, including MIT and Smith College, have converted all of their courses for the spring semester to mandatory pass/fail to address the extraordinary challenges being faced by their students and faculty. Other colleges should follow their lead. Changing all courses to pass/fail and adding an asterisk to everyone’s transcript would eliminate any problems with fairness while allowing students and faculty to focus on creating a meaningful learning experience in anxious times.


In normal times, it makes sense to have individual faculty members determine fair assessment. But these are not normal times. Students were forced to leave campus on short notice and are now scattered around the world. Some will be tuning in from distant time zones, others from situations where a stable internet connection is an unaffordable luxury good.

Both Harvard and Middlebury have extended the deadline for converting a course to pass/fail, so students without access at least have that option. But it is unjust that some students should be forced to choose that path while other students continue to receive letter grades. That problem is solved at a stroke by a universitywide policy to switch all classes this semester to pass/fail.


The truth is that everybody would benefit from a pass/fail policy. Faculty members could focus on engaging students for learning in demanding new circumstances. Students would get a respite from direct competition with their peers to focus on both individual growth and doing their part in a common endeavor (a skill we are very much going to need in the months ahead). Parents could focus on loving and nurturing their children rather than worrying about how to assist them in navigating or gaming a new system.


Some may protest the shift as unfair, because it invalidates the accomplishments of those who were at the top of the grade hierarchy when the regular semester ground to a halt. But what does excellence actually mean when global public health is under siege? The measures that are necessary to contain the pandemic require the strong to sacrifice their short-term selfish interests for the sake of other humans and the sustainability of our democracy.

Colleges could reinforce that commitment by recognizing that it will be impossible to decide what is a fair grade when the world seems to be spinning out of control for all of us. It is also a way of acknowledging that what we do together in face-to-face education cannot be replaced with a high-speed internet connection.

The pandemic has a way of taking all of us back to core questions about what we value and why, and the matter of grading while the plague rages is no exception. If our purpose in teaching is to engage students in the joy we ourselves have experienced from learning and the life of the mind, removing letter grades from the interaction, especially in dark times, only reinforces our shared commitment. Social distancing to flatten the curve is all about making small sacrifices for the good of others...”

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