Pass/Fail Grading Option at St. John's

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St. John's announced on March 8th, 2020, that they would be testing online classes on Thursday and Friday, March 12th and 13th. However, the next day, the university sent an email regarding the suspension of in-person classes up until March 27th. Students were expected (and in some ways, forced) to leave their dorms/residences on campus and go back home. Although an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 (this message was shared through internal email on March 13th), the university has not announced whether students should be expected to come back to the Queens and SI campuses following March 27th. [See the latest update.]

Due to the uncertainty of this situation and the possible, unsafe environments of some students' homes, it is likely that their academic performance will be deeply affected. St. John's students understand and thank the university for taking our health into consideration and providing online instruction. However, we believe that the next step is to allow class the option for pass/fail or a generous curve. Reasons to adjust are listed below: 

  • Help reduce the stress that many students are already experiencing from sudden travel, such as the anxiety and distress that students may have felt while trying to purchase plane or train tickets, checking in luggage, the act of packing to go home, etc.. Students who have left New York City but have returned to states with a high number of COVID-19 cases, such as California or Washington state, are likely still experiencing stress, knowing that their community is at risk.
  • Personal difficulties: time zones, internet access and/or connection, possibly unstable homes, having to take care of family members. Unexpected barriers that low-income students may experience at home. These points are expanded below:
  1. Time zone difference will affect a student's ability to operate and/or even attend class. Some students had 7 AM classes; if they had to go to the West Coast, that class would now be a 4 AM. For international students, classes could be held in the middle of the night. Inconvenient timing of classes will undoubtedly affect their academic performance.
  2. Those who dorm at this university, as an escape from toxic or abusive homes, now have to return if they did not file a successful appeal; how can a student be expected to perform well in a class if they don't feel safe at home? 
  3. If a family member becomes sick, how will a student focus on their studies? We should be prioritizing the health and status of our community over grades at this moment.
  4. With the university closed, student-workers are not making money; what if this was a source of income that they or their family needed desperately? 
  • For those out-of-state students that have stayed in NYC, many are staying because it is too expensive to fly back and/or they are concerned about the health and safety of their family. A lot of these students stuck on campus may also be experiencing loneliness.
  • Online instruction is incomparable to the experience and learning that one may have in the class and during in-person lectures; although many students may transition seamlessly to learning online, there will be an indisputable part of our student body that will face difficulties in focusing and/or truly understanding class material.

In general, this pandemic is having an overall negative effect on the esteem and mental health of our student body. Other universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have announced that they would be changing their grading policy to pass/fail as a result of COVID-19 being a significant disruption (outline in Article 2.64 of their rules and regulations manual). Other universities have followed suit, such as Smith College. St. John's is not the only academic institution calling for this transition; Columbia and Barnard College are also petitioning for pass/fail as a result of their online classes going on for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. 

For the reasons listed above, we ask that St. John's transition from letter grading to pass/fail. We recognize that letter grades are used to determine scholarship eligibility, so another option that we would propose is that transcripts with letter grades also have an asterisk (*) or some footnote that denotes this grade was received during a major interruption to in-person instruction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even a generous curve from professors would alleviate stress from SJU students. We hope that St. John's University enacts this change for the betterment of the student community in these trying and stressful times. 


Personal disclaimer: I'm doing well in my classes, most of my grades are currently at a "95" or higher. However, I'm still being emotionally affected by this situation (I am an out-of-state student, but I will not be going home because of my family's health) and believe that some indication on our transcripts that these grades were received during the COVID-19 pandemic is important and necessary. I'd prefer that we use asterisks so that grades/points are still represented accurately, but I know that other students may be struggling more than I am currently. For the sake of our entire student body, the school should consider transitioning into pass/fail.  

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