Offer an OPT-IN Pass/Fail Grading Scale to UGA Community due to COVID-19

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(USG wide petition sign here: bit.ly/PassFailUSG)

On March 12, 2020, the University of Georgia announced a temporary two week suspension of classes and informed students they must not return to campus within those two weeks if they traveled outside of the country during spring break. On March 16, 2020, it was announced that rather than return to in-person instruction, the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester would transition to an online format. Similarly, other schools within the University System of Georgia made the same announcements.


We, as students, are grateful to our schools prioritizing the health and safety of the entirety of our communities when making this difficult decision. However, given the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe UGA should strongly consider the option of transitioning to an opt-in pass/fail grading scale in which all classes would still count for major, minor, prerequisite, or concentration requirements. We believe this decision will be in the best interest of all of the members of the UGA Community. 


This transition to online curriculum poses many personal issues that we know the University system is working to address, but many students may not have access to the internet when they return home or have their own computer. Some cable companies end their service lines in rural areas, so those students will be at a disadvantage and unable to have access to their course work. Moreover, more and more public libraries are closing everyday, meaning there are even less resources available for many of our peers, especially those who rely on UGA's libraries for computers, printing, internet, and copies of textbooks. Some of our fellow Bulldawgs may go home to financially difficult times, unexpected home responsibilities, and may not be able to find a quiet study space. Additionally, despite an application process to stay on campus, many students will be displaced in regards to their living situation and may not have a safe place to return to or will be required to travel around the world and risk possible exposure to COVID-19 to return home. 


For the courses that have announced that instruction will be done via Zoom at their scheduled time in Standard Eastern Time, many students will face difficulties with being able to attend virtual lectures from different time zones around the globe. The students who will struggle with time zone changes may also have difficulty contacting professors or visiting their virtual office hours, which could prove detrimental to the students who rely on in-person office hours and review sessions for a better understanding of the course material.

The reality is, there are many classes that will not translate to an online environment, including (but not limited to) the following: studio art courses, labs, higher level math courses, philosophy courses, physical education classes, freshman year odyssey classes, foreign language classes, e.t.c.. Many students will not have access to support resources such as academic tutoring that may be too difficult and/or expensive to attain without University resources. Additionally, many of our professors, while incredible resources and teachers, have little to no experience with using online courses.

Hence, creating an opt-in pass/fail option will provide the much needed relief to students in this unexpected turn in the semester. 

The benefits of implementing a pass/fail grading scale are significant. This semester is unconventional and will undoubtedly see our stress levels rise as COVID-19 and the related systemic shifts continues to spread. To continue with a normal grading scale would be unfair to those who will inevitably have loved ones get sick and possibly pass away and to those who have socioeconomic disadvantages that will limit their academic abilities by not attending in-person instruction. It is much more fair to students that graduate schools and employers see "P's" on students' transcripts  than potentially risking students getting grades well below their GPA potentially negating all the hard work they have done. Implementing an opt-in pass / fail grading scale will enable students to maintain an impressive academic record without destroying their employment and graduate prospects. The benefits of a pass/fail grading system extend to the professors as well. With a decent population of UGA’s professors being older than the at-risk age (50+), it is highly probable that they could be infected and, if so, their focus should be on their recovery, not grading assignments.


During this trying time, we think it is important that there is a degree of leniency with grades, which is why we think the opt-in pass/fail grading scale that is being adopted by more universities is so important. We have all worked hard this semester, but in the midst of a pandemic, it is vital that we remember that now is the time we should do everything we can to help people in any conceivable capacity. Especially for those with high GPA’s this semester, apprehension regarding an opt-in pass/fail grading scale is understandable; however, some students with high GPA’s also have socioeconomic disadvantages, and they will go home and could lose their high GPA because they do not have access to computers or other resources. There are so many people who will go home to abusive and toxic homes. No students or professors should be penalized in the midst of this calamity, and this option will be a great way to alleviate all of our anxieties. 


Thus, the most significant benefit of the opt-in grading scale other universities have begun implementing: Each individual student has the option to partake in this alternative grading scale based on their circumstances.

We acknowledge 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. There is a concern that these grades will not be accepted by law schools, medical schools, or grad schools, but over the past few days institutions including Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School, the University of Michigan Law School, UC Berkeley School of Law, Cornell Law School (https://www.law.com/2020/03/18/law-schools-adopt-pass-fail-grades-as-they-move-online-amid-covid-19/?slreturn=20200218233331). 

We, as students, recognize how difficult a decision it was to move to online instruction and thank our Universities for putting our safety above all else, but we hope that the University of Georgia follows the action of other prestigious universities (including M.I.T., Duke, Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon University, Northwestern University, the City Universities of New York, Smith College, and Middlebury College) and enacts this change for the overall benefit of the student and faculty community (https://www.thedp.com/article/2020/03/pass-fail-penn-mit-georgetown-smith). 

 

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