Give UNT Graduate Students a Pass/No Pass Grade Option for Spring 2020

Give UNT Graduate Students a Pass/No Pass Grade Option for Spring 2020

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Tiffany Miller
Tiffany Miller signed this petition

The Graduate students at the University of North Texas were excluded from the decision that allowed Undergraduate students the option of choosing either letter grades or pass/no pass grades during the Spring 2020 semester in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is unacceptable. Moreover, this exclusion shows a clear lack of connection with Graduate students at UNT and a distinct lack of consideration of their needs, at a time when life is already uncertain and filled with worry. 

In an ongoing survey of the Graduate student body, 879 students have presently responded and of those students, 442 students have indicated that academic insecurity is among their top three concerns, second only to rent and/or utilities by two votes. This academic insecurity is being exacerbated by other factors, like increased working hours for TAs that have to accommodate the sudden move to online courses, unexpected childcare and care of aging parents, social isolation, financial insecurity, and much more that would take too long to list. When asked for commentary, students submitted approximately 22 pages worth of responses, with a few below as highlights:

  • "I feel that graduate students may have more difficulty because courses required for our degrees are offered on a longer rotation, and it is not easy to simply drop a course and take it again. It would be nice if we also had a pass/no pass option because funding is tied to academic success. As a graduate student with children, COVID-19 makes it more difficult to meet their needs, especially when trying to meet academic needs. It takes longer to find items for daily care (like when the stores ran out of toilet paper and certain types of food). I cannot go home to my parents, or make quick arrangements, because I am the parent."
  • "I am not a funded graduate student, so this time has been especially difficult. I am unemployed and have almost no support from the university."
  • "I have clinical depression and this pandemic is making it very hard for me to focus and do my best work. I really need to reduce some stress and take care of my mental health and school is a major source of stress and anxiety for me."
  • "I cannot afford to keep paying for my health insurance and now is not a good time to be without it."
  • "[I am concerned about] the expectations to power through as providers, be it teaching assistants, teaching fellows, and/or clinicians, while we, too, go through this crisis."
  • "Teaching Fellows, who are also the instructor of record, are being asked to work twice as hard to create online learning for their students. My hours have doubled and from what I understand we are not being compensated. I have also had to quit my part time job in order to keep up with my academic responsibilities, so am impacted even harder."
  • " [I'm] just overwhelmed with all the changes. I am a faculty [member] and a student and I am sleeping 4-5 hours every day to make it through the week."

Graduate students are not excluded from the mental duress of the social, health, and economic effects of the pandemic, they are not excluded from the closure of many campus resources they relied upon pre-pandemic, they are not excluded from food insecurity, food insecurity they were already experiencing and are now experiencing to higher degrees than pre-pandemic, they are not excluded from the pressures of teaching and connecting with Undergraduates whose classes they are managing on top of managing their own academics, they are not excluded from their research projects coming to a screeching halt, they are not excluded from working extended hours as essential workers, they are not excluded from the effects of social isolation, so why then are they being excluded from having the option to decide for themselves how to handle the effects all of this is having on their academics this semester?

A number of other schools considered that question and responded by allowing their Graduate students a pass/no pass grade option. The list includes, but is not limited to:

  • UT Arlington
  • Texas A&M University
  • Rice University
  • University of Houston
  • Oklahoma University
  • Oklahoma State University
  • University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
  • University of Missouri (Mizzou)
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Syracuse University
  • University of California System
  • Oregon State University
  • Duke University
  • Georgetown University
  • Beloit College
  • Middlebury College
  • Grinnell College

Graduate students work hard, they are highly concerned about their grades, and right now they need support. Implementing this change for our students sends the message that administrators are capable of acknowledging that there are unprecedented complications right now and that they trust our Graduate students to consider their own unique situations and subsequent options carefully, the same way they trust our Graduate students to teach, to conduct high quality research, and to lead across our beautiful campus.

Singing glory to the green, singing glory to the white,

For we know our university is striving for the right;

Down the corridor of years, we'll forget the joys and tears,

But North Texas, North Texas, we love!

I am asking that the University of North Texas administrators recognize that Graduate students need their sincere care and consideration right now. I am asking that the University of North Texas administrators allow Graduate students the same opportunity they allowed Undergraduate students: to decide for themselves how they will handle their academics during a pandemic crisis. I am asking that the University of North Texas administrators make the right decision here. 

UNT is my home. I love it dearly. And I will not stop pushing for this, pushing for UNT to be the best that it can be--for all students. 

Sincerely, Strongly, and Thoughtfully,

Tiffany E. Miller

UNT Graduate Student Council

President