Swarthmore Student Petition for Universal Pass

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Olivia Robbins
Olivia Robbins signed this petition

We have been listening to your concerns and working with our partner organizations to make our policy demands more comprehensive in supporting ALL of our students. We want to emphasize that this is a living movement, not a monolith of ideas. In light of the unforeseen academic changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we, the undergraduate student body of Swarthmore College, respectfully petition the Provost’s Office, the Undergraduate Dean’s Office, the Registrar’s Office, and the President of the College to consider offering Swarthmore students the opportunity to take ALL Spring 2020 classes under a “Universal Pass” (UP) system. By adopting a UP system, the College ensures that no student is penalized for factors outside of their control. 

Following the formal extension of spring break and suspension of in-person classes for the remainder of the semester, students have been struggling with a wide range of issues concerning access to safe and secure housing, regular meals, internet/computer access, financial support, different time zones, child and eldercare. Students are grappling with these changes while also dealing with the threat of COVID-19.

Due to the shutdown of campus, students no longer have access to vital resources and support networks. While the College has offered technical support to students through Information Technology Services (ITS), we anticipate technological difficulties that may inhibit students’ ability to learn online. Some Swatties do not have access to the internet or a personal computer. Students may not have access to any spaces with computers, as some public libraries have closed or limited available services. Other students may have the only computer in their household and have to share the device with family. With these drastic changes in students’ learning settings and living conditions, a UP system would help alleviate stress on students during this already stressful time. 

We ALL deserve the right to continue our academic pursuits and passions this semester without worry of the potential slipping or falling of our grades. A UP system not only benefits students of differing socioeconomic status but the student body as a whole. We believe UP is the most equitable response as it allows students to prioritize their health and safety above all.   

With graduate school, medical school, law school, and employers requiring letter grades on transcripts, we request that Swarthmore include a grade of “P” on students’ transcripts with a notation that explains the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We ask that the UP grading system be applied to ALL courses at Swarthmore, including major/minor, distribution, pre-med, and Honors requirements.  

Furthermore, the College ought to implement a dean-reviewed petition system where a limited number of students may request to have letter grades for the semester. This policy would ONLY apply to students in extenuating circumstances who are in scholarship, military, and housing programs that require letter grades to be reported in order for them to maintain their status. This is an important clarification from an optional Credit/No-Credit policy because these scholarships have already been EARNED. With these changes, a shift to Universal Pass will not put any student's employment or standing at the university in jeopardy. Otherwise, shadow grades should be completely withheld after a certain period of time has passed to allow these students to decide if they are in a situation where opting out is necessary, so that into the future students, the College, other institutions, or even employers cannot demand access to grades beyond the presented Universal Pass.

Our request for a UP system stems largely from student advocacy at Yale University (#NoFailYale). The undergraduate student body at Yale has pushed for a UP system for Spring 2020, stating “students would receive credit for their courses and a P on their transcript.” In describing why UP is more equitable than Pass/Fail (CR/NC for Swarthmore), Yale students provide the following response: “the optional route discriminates against students who are struggling outside of Yale. Having a difference between pass/fail and letter grades creates a stigma around choosing pass/fail. When employers or grad schools compare students it will seem like students who choose pass/fail are less deserving of the position. That stigma will fall on socioeconomic lines.” 

As students of Swarthmore College, we care deeply about our education and are passionate about our coursework. We do not believe that offering the option of UP will inhibit students’ effort in their courses. Rather, it will encourage students to continue to work hard without fear of being penalized for factors outside of their control. By adopting a UP system, the Swarthmore administration demonstrates its commitment to educational equity, student health, and community wellbeing. 

We look forward to your response.


The Swarthmore Students for Universal Pass (S.UP)