Request To Make UVA Spring 2020 Classes Pass/Fail An Option Due to COVID-19
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Due to the spread of COVID-19, the University of Virginia campus, as well as many other college campuses and educational institutions around the country, have decided to discontinue face-to-face instruction and proceed with virtual instruction. While this decision greatly serves the population and protects everyone from potential exposure to illness and contaminants, it puts the students of UVA at an educational disadvantage for a variety of reasons.
First, this system of learning through Zoom Conferencing and virtual instruction prevents meetings with professors and TAs in person. While we can still interact with our professors and TAs through email, phone, and video-calling, there are limitations including one's time zone, WIFI availability, logistical organization, etc. Additionally, an inability to physically be on campus poses challenges to students' educational quality. UVA provides multiple resources for students such as libraries, lab access, practice room access, specialized technology access, etc. Indefinite virtual instruction means an end to access, putting many students at a disadvantage. These disadvantages cause a great deal of stress for students, adding on the fact that the course load and material will still be the same.
Furthermore, virtual instruction for the duration of the semester would cause a great deal of difficulty for professors and TAs as well. Classes in which participation is weighed heavily would be difficult to grade just considering the first half of the semester. It is unfair for both the professors and the students to have to find alternative ways to measure and quantify this part of education.
UVA is also a very diverse community with students coming from all parts of the globe. International students and even students living in different parts of the country (specifically the West Coast) would have to stay up or wake up at inconvenient times to "attend" virtual classes. For instance, lectures starting at 8am in Charlottesville would require that students on the West Coast be up at 5am to participate in the class. For international students, this would mean vastly early or late times. This is unfair to them as the university emphasized for students to return to their permanent addresses during this period of uncertainty. This jeopardizes the mental health of a plethora of students who have to continue doing school work, "attending" class, and figuring out when to eat and sleep while maintaining a regularity that is simply impossible with this system.
Many institutions, such as Georgetown University, Northwestern University, and Grinnel College have enacted a pass/fail option for their students. Offering a pass/fail opt-in option for classes of a student's choosing for the semester helps alleviate some of the stresses caused by measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. UVA students are driven and passionate but even under the right circumstances, the amount of work and engagement can be exhausting and detrimental to the general mental health of the student body. Making the semester "lower stakes" wouldn't discourage students from doing well in their classes, but rather allow some leeway for those put in tough academic situations. The university has done well in allowing an open campus for those who may have issues at home, food insecurity, financial instability, etc. This is recognized and commended. However, the next step is for UVA to make students able to opt-in to make their classes pass/fail in order to make a truly equitable policy for this ever-changing situation.
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