Make All NYU CAS Classes Pass/Fail Spring 2020

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To the Attention of the NYU College of Arts and Science:

I am an anonymous sophomore at NYU CAS. I am writing on behalf of our student body in regards to our recently “enhanced” Pass/Fail policy. This change has been documented on the CAS website’s Academic Standards page as such:

“The application of the Pass/Fail policy has been enhanced to address the special circumstances of CAS remote instruction this current semester. Students may elect to Pass/Fail up to two courses during the Spring 2020 semester. The deadline for students to declare this option is Tuesday, May 12, 2020 (Reading Day). Students should consult their academic advisor for guidance on whether to choose this option. Students wishing to elect or rescind the Pass/Fail option must petition the Academic Standards Committee by Tuesday, May 12, 2020 (Reading Day).

“Please note that the Pass/Fail option can apply toward fulfilling the requirements of the Core Curriculum or a department elective. A student's request to apply Pass/Fail toward a major or minor requirement must have approval from the originating department.

“Students may withdraw from a course online through Albert up until Tuesday, May 12, 2020 (Reading Day).”

While I applaud the College’s efforts to “address the special circumstances” of this global pandemic, I find its solution utterly lacking. In this letter, I will address a number of concerns relating to the current Pass/Fail policy as well as possible next steps to assuage our panicked student population.

In the coming months, an unprecedented number of students will likely opt to Pass/Fail their classes this semester. Students from every nation are scrambling to flee homeward, many losing precious time and money along the way. I’ve heard countless stories of my friends’ thwarted attempts to get home to states like Texas and Nevada. I can only imagine the hardships international students have endured en route to their native countries, if they are able to return at all. For an institution that prides itself on being “global,” NYU has failed its international population in their greatest time of need.

Travel logistics aside, each and every member of the CAS student body has been impacted by coronavirus. I’m sure the College is keeping as close an eye on the case statistics as I am, but I’d like to draw attention to how young adults specifically are suffering. While this disease has higher fatality rates among the elderly, people within my age bracket have been proven more likely to carry the disease while displaying minimal or no symptoms. (I should also note that I know of two NYU students with coronavirus, and I’m certain many more reports will be trickling in.) Any number of CAS students could be carrying COVID-19 and spreading it to their loved ones. If their grandparents or immunocompromised relatives are not already afflicted, they may begin displaying symptoms within 3-14 days of their related students’ arrival. These people could join the 276,000 others struggling with – and 11,000 dying of – coronavirus.

I am lucky that no member of my household is at high risk for death by COVID-19. That said, the University needs to recognize just how many of its students are less fortunate. One of my CAS friends is awaiting coronavirus test results since their suitemate tested positive last week. This friend lives with their grandmother and is extremely anxious about the repercussions of a potential domestic spread. Countless other students are undergoing the same stresses as their at-risk loved ones become increasingly likely to catch the virus. Jobs have gone remote; hospitals have become overcrowded; medical workers have been stretched too thin to provide quality care to the ill. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know school would be the least of my concerns if my grandparents contracted COVID-19. My focus would be on my family and not on my overdue forum posts, which could accumulate over time to reduce my grade. Even if my grandparent died, I may be stuck with this grade because I elected to Pass/Fail two other classes or a department denied my request to Pass/Fail a major or minor requirement. Though tragic, this situation could be a reality for many CAS students, who are relying on their College for far more compassion than its policy provides.

It is vital to recognize not only the physical detriments of this outbreak, but also its profound impact on students’ mental health. It is no secret that in recent years, NYU students and young adults in general have suffered from conditions like anxiety and depression at an unprecedented rate. In the age of coronavirus, every social media post and news broadcast seems to reflect the exponential rise of COVID-19 cases and deaths. How is a population known for its struggles with mental illness supposed to function properly in the middle of a global pandemic? I have seen a number of friends and family members break down over the fear and devastating consequences of coronavirus. I’m sure thousands of CAS students, mentally ill or not, have been hit hard by the doom and gloom of recent events. I ask you how these students can be expected to write cogent papers, to solve complex equations, to recall two months of class material for their midterms. NYU has never been famous for its mental health resources, no matter how much support is said to exist at the Wellness and Moses Centers. What help is made available through these resources has been diminished in its electronic existence and will be under more strain than ever as students try to keep their heads up through these trying times. By restricting students’ Pass/Fail abilities, CAS is putting the onus on them to excel under nearly apocalyptic conditions.

Even for students with no severe mental health issues, this unnecessary academic pressure could result in disastrous performance across the boards. Homeless students, low-income students, students with toxic family lives, differently-abled students, and countless other factions of the CAS student body are expecting their grades to drop significantly this semester. Anyone attending our College has demonstrated great academic strength simply by gaining admission, which has set record lows in recent years. I shudder to think that such diligent students’ GPAs, academic lives, and professional futures could take an unnecessary hit because their College failed to recognize the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak.

NYU has been hearing plenty from its students over the past week. There have been petitions for refunds, housing extensions, and Pass/Fail options across the University. I have been carefully observing communication from other NYU colleges and am pleased to see that the Tisch School has allowed its students to Pass/Fail all classes. I expect the issue of CAS’ negligent academic policy to be taken just as seriously and come to a similar resolution. Our College is counting on you to do what is right in this time of mass hysteria, distraction, and crisis. We trust that you will adjust your Pass/Fail policy accordingly.


The CAS Student Body