Implement Universal Pass at Vassar
Implement Universal Pass at Vassar
Vassar students have been forced to make extremely difficult concessions to adapt to the current situation with COVID-19, and we need the College to work with us to help us succeed during these challenging times. We students of Vassar College advocate for grading the Spring 2020 semester with a Universal Pass system. A Universal Pass (UP) system gives full credit to students for their courses and gives all students in all graded courses a Pass grade.
Given that Vassar’s education is designed for in-person interaction and discussion, there is no denying that the quality of our academics will suffer due to distance learning. The flow of conversation will consistently be disrupted due to technological lags, lack of eye contact, and faulty sound. Further, many students will be unable to make it to class meetings due to time zones or lack of internet connection.
For many, living in tight quarters with our families means we have no quiet space to do our work. Because non-essential businesses around the country are being shut down and students are mandated to shelter in place or socially isolate, we no longer have access to many study spaces. Research projects and senior theses will be difficult to complete without access to a library, to the internet, and to our peers and advisors. Office hours as we know and love them are no longer available for students seeking extra help, which eliminates one of Vassar’s strongest assets: the ability for students to have individual interactions with their professors. In conclusion, completing the rigorous workload of a Vassar semester is not possible without the resources that being on campus provides.
In addition, the immense emotional burden placed on students during this crisis needs to be taken into consideration. Our lives are filled with unknowns. We don’t know when we will get to see loved ones again. We don’t know how we will afford living essentials with mass layoffs and reductions in working hours. We don’t know if we have been infected with the Coronavirus. Some of us don’t know where we will sleep or when we will get our next meal, much less know how to use Zoom.
Given these extremely distressing circumstances, it is unreasonable to expect students to continue with classes as normal. Many of us can’t put energy into our schoolwork because we are just trying our best not to slip into depression. Our mental and physical health is our first priority, and they are both severely at risk. Faculty will also struggle to maintain a typical semester’s workload and to determine grades that account for each student’s unique circumstances at this time. As a community, we all need to focus on what is most important right now. While academics are extremely valuable, our mental and physical wellbeing must come first. While some universities such as Georgetown have implemented an opt-in pass/fail policy, we are following the example of Yale students in advocating for a Universal Pass system.
In a global crisis, our community's mental and physical health and wellness is the top priority. Completing this semester will be difficult for a myriad of reasons that are outside of students’ control, including the loss of safe housing, fractured support systems, and limited internet access. Given these circumstances, it is unreasonable to expect students to continue with school work as normal. A UP system encourages students to care for themselves and their loved ones and does not penalize students for using their limited energy elsewhere.
Why not optional Pass/Fail?
The option to take classes Pass/Fail will only deepen existing inequalities. If Pass/Fail is optional, it gives future employers and graduate school admissions offices the opportunity to judge a student’s academic ability based on factors that are outside of their control. Further, in a Pass/Fail system, students can still Fail. The stress of this pandemic may surpass many students’ abilities to earn a passing grade. Vassar should be advocating for students rather than deeming their work a failure in a period where they face much more pressing issues.
What will motivate students to do their remote work?
Vassar students care deeply about their academic work. A UP system invites students to devote as much time and energy as they can to their work without adding unnecessary stress to this already stressful time. Students will still be using their knowledge, creativity, passion, and care this semester, but these efforts may be more focused toward their communities than their academic work. As a college that urges students to be passionate about changing the world for the better, we should encourage rather than penalize community involvement at this dire time.
What about requirements for graduate school?
By using a UP system, all transcripts will note the change in grading for the semester as endorsed by Vassar and how the Pass grade reflects students’ continued commitment to their academic work during this global crisis. Every college and graduate school is grappling with the same questions we are right now, so they will need to be understanding of our decision to alter the grading system. To the extent that is within Vassar’s control, all Passes will count towards requirements for graduate school since the letter grading system will not be in use. Students who require letter grades for specific programs can receive accommodations or exceptions from administration; the UP system is meant to support students, not make post-Vassar plans any more difficult.
We are inspired by and grateful for the No Fail Yale movement as an example of how we can strive for more equitable education in this unprecedented situation. Thank you to the many students around the country who informed these ideas and helped this petition come together so quickly. Thank you specifically to Vassar students Sumiko Neary, Sophie Kaplan-Bucciarelli, Hanna Stasuik and Karina Norton for their work on this petition.