Add Pass/Fail Option for Students at the University of Pittsburgh due to COVID-19

Add Pass/Fail Option for Students at the University of Pittsburgh due to COVID-19

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On March 11, 2020, faced with the national spread of COVID-19, The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) decided not to return to in-person classes for the Spring 2020 semester. As students, we understand how difficult the decision was to make and we appreciate all of the care taken in making the decision and transitioning into online coursework.

This sudden change has left students feeling concerned about the emotional and academic consequences of suspending in-person Pitt activities. We are reaching out to request that Pitt change their grading policy to help alleviate these concerns. 

On March 16, 2020, our neighboring university, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), announced that they would be transitioning to an alternate grading policy. Per the new policy, once students receive letter grades for the semester, students then have up to 7 days to request a transition for any course to pass/fail grading. Due to the circumstances, there is no limit to the number of courses that can be adjusted to pass/fail grading, passing grades will count toward degree requirements, and D grades will convert to a passing grade. We hope that the steps taken by CMU, a well-respected university in our community, will inspire Pitt to consider enacting a similar policy adjustment in order to fully support its students.

Transitioning to optional pass/fail emergency grading would help reduce student stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pitt’s emergency policies impact all students, but even more so the ~9% of the student body that is international and the ~39% of the student body that is out of state. With the suspension of in-person activities, usual available stress-coping mechanisms like the stress-free zone, student organizations, and other campus programming have become unavailable to students. Adding to any stress from the personal challenges that students may be facing, many academic resources are no longer easily accessible. Additionally, as professors transition their classes to online, mistakes and miscommunications are likely to occur that may be difficult for students.

Lastly, new online grading and instruction should not impact students’ GPAs. While online class this semester is unavoidable, we can attempt to counteract the challenges of online classes by changing grading to an optional pass/fail emergency structure. The volatility of moving online and changing due dates, assignments, and exams deeply impacts teaching and grading standards. Therefore, Pitt should adapt its course grading mechanisms to fit these new standards.

We believe that emergency pass/fail grading should be purely optional, as some students would like to retain letter grades on their transcripts for future education (e.g. medical school) or to raise their GPA (e.g. seniors needing to raise their GPAs to graduate). 

As we all do our best to carry on with our studies while managing factors outside of our control, we’d like Pitt to consider amending the Spring 2020 grading policy to accommodate student needs.

*This petition was inspired by and derived from a similar and successful petition to the CMU administration