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Pass/Fail Grading Option at the University of South Florida

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On March 11th, 2020, the Office of the President at the University of South Florida announced that, as directed by the Florida Board of Governors, classes would be transitioned online from March 23rd to at least April 5th. As of March 17th, 2020, it was announced that due to the evolving circumstances of COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, remote instruction was to continue until at least May 7th. This included the cancellation and postponing of all social gatherings of more than 10 people and all events on campus. Furthermore, the USF libraries were also announced that they would be closed to all public visitors.

Because of this confusing and stressful situation, it is very probable that the academic averages of the student body will be affected greatly. The students of USF appreciate the time and consideration that our administration has put towards our health and the transition into online instruction. Nonetheless, we believe that a pass/fail option or generous curve for classes should be put in place. The many reasons for this adjustment are listed below:

- The sudden changes caused by this pandemic are sure to cause a great deal of stress and anxiety across the student body. Many students are having to pack and return home while juggling studying for exams or completing assignments. As of March 17th, 2020 the death toll in the U.S. passed 100 and the virus spread to all 50 states. This fear caused by knowing the community is at risk is also bound to cause stress which will undoubtedly affect performance in school.

- Because USF is such a diverse school, we have many international and out-of-state students who were displaced by this virus because they cannot afford to fly home, or they are concerned to return home and risk the health and safety of their family, or they cannot return home at all due to the current travel bans put in place. This not only results in extreme stress, but also loneliness caused by being trapped on campus alone.

- If a family member falls ill due to the virus, it will become very difficult to focus on studies. As a community, we should be prioritizing health and well-being over academic performance.

- Due to the many businesses and restaurants closing down to prevent the spread of the virus, many student-workers are being placed on unpaid leave and are not making an income. This is a serious stress factor for many who rely on this money for food and housing or use it to support their family.

- Online instruction is unparalleled to the experience one can gain from in-class education where questions can be asked directly and things such as office hours can be provided. This is especially the case for all of the newly transitioned online classes as students originally signed up for these classes with the understanding that we would have access to communicate with our professors and fellow peers in person. While many students may be able to easily make the transition to online school, there will also be many who will face barriers in concentrating and understanding the class material.

- Many students face personal situations that limit their access to technology, such as laptops or the internet. These students, who previously relied on things like the computer labs on campus, will be at a huge disability, and their grades will suffer as a result.

Overall, the current pandemic is creating a negative influence on the mental health and esteem of the University of South Florida community. Other universities, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Smith College, have announced that this pass/fail system would be implemented in order to account for the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In other cases, schools like Vanderbilt and Grinnell College have given the opportunity to individually decide to switch to the pass/fail grading basis. USF is also one of many universities calling for this adjustment. Colleges like Columbia and the University of Florida (UF) are also petitioning to create a pass/fail option due to the circumstances caused by the virus.

In conclusion, due to the plethora of reasons listed above, the students of the University of South Florida urge our administration to allow the option to transition our letter grades to pass/fail. We also acknowledge the role that letter grades play in scholarship eligibility and GPA calculations, so we also propose that transcripts with letter grades provide some sort of footnote or asterisk (*) which recognizes that any grades from this Spring semester occurred during this interruption of in-person education due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A considerate curve from professors would also be greatly appreciated as a substitute to account for any deviation from the academic performance which would have occurred under uninterrupted situations. We hope that the University of South Florida moves forward with this plan so that the students of the university may continue to excel academically during these stressful times.

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Disclaimer: For anybody who might be confused, the pass/fail petition isn’t asking for the entirety of the student body to switch to pass/fail. It’s asking for students to be given the option to choose if they, independently, would like their courses to be pass/fail. I personally would be more benefitted by maintaining the A-F grading scale, so having the choice I would not switch over. BUT I do strongly believe that there are many people who cannot handle the transition to online school due to extenuating circumstances with everything that’s going on, and because it’s out of our control nobody should be penalized by this. That being said, this petition is not meant to divide the student body, it’s more to bring everybody together and maybe fight for each other and be there for others of us who are going through an especially difficult time right now. Thanks!



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