NYU Students for Universal Pass

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As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country and intimately affect our communities, we call on NYU to prioritize and protect the interests of its students by instituting policies to maintain equity in education, student health and overall community wellbeing now that campus has been removed for a large majority of us.

In a university with students from many diverse backgrounds, many students are returning to homes and temporary-stay facilities where they simply do not have access to the same resources that they did while on NYU’s campuses. For starters, the campus presented an equalizing ground where students would all have access to the same resources offered by the university. Currently, students are faced with challenges such as unreliable internet service, lack of access to technology (such as but not limited to: computers,  computers with audio and video extension, software, etc.), unstable familial situations, and newly reshaped financial burdens. The list goes on in regards to the new difficulties students are experiencing upon the move to remote learning and the closing of campus.

We urge the NYU administrators and faculty to switch to a universal pass (UP) model. Under UP all students will receive credit and all courses will count toward major or minor requirements. Additionally, all students’ transcripts will include a note about the COVID-19 crisis explaining the extenuating circumstances under which all students receive P’s instead of standard letter grades. We recognize that the Provost has already agreed to add a note to transcripts regarding the COVID-19 crisis, but only for students who opt-in to the pass/policy, making students hesitant to make this change knowing that some of their peers did not. Thus implementing a UP system would buffer the potentially negative connotations of a grade of “Credit” for future employers and graduate/professional school admissions. We believe that UP is more equitable than a Credit//Fail system; in the latter, students who lack resources and are forced to are still at risk of receiving a grade of failing.

Moreover, we believe making a “P” grade universal takes into account the differing needs and socioeconomic backgrounds of NYU’s student body. A system that makes letter grades optional and pass/fail the standard, or vice versa, burdens students who are unable to perform in the same capacity as they do on campus or without a global pandemic. Creating distinctions between pass/fail and letter grades creates a stigma around choosing to take courses for credit—one that can drastically impact future employment or graduate/professional school admissions. That stigma will also fall on socioeconomic lines: those of us without internet access, stable housing, or food security will either be forced to choose pass/fail, or will end up overburdening ourselves academically at the expense of our personal or family health. We are also calling for UP to ensure that students at each NYU school are on equal footing. As it currently stands, students at the Tandon School of Engineering are allowed to pass/fail all courses, while students at the College of Arts and Sciences are only allowed to pass/fail two courses. Ultimately, NYU students should not be academically penalized for responding to a global crisis, forced to choose between our GPA and the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones.

Furthermore, several similar institutions such as MIT, Stanford University, Harvard University, Cornell University, Dartmouth University, Smith College, and Grinnell College have already recognized the inequity in continuing to conduct grading in the same manner as before, and have moved beyond the traditional letter grading system. Students at Yale have also been pushing their institutions to make this change. We call on New York University to follow in this example and in turn to become an example for other institutions by moving to a Universal Pass system, as well as ensuring students who must pass specific course requirements for certain license accreditations receive the support necessary in this time.

We are not making this request due to any lack of dedication to our education. We believe that any of us if presented with sufficient opportunities and resources, would complete—even excel in—our coursework. However, as demonstrated above, this is not possible for everyone. NYU students remain passionate about their courses of study; the UP system would not change that. It is because of our continued commitment to our education and an equitable learning environment for all students that we are demanding Universal Pass.