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Editorial: Pass/fail needs more than a yes/no answer

Last Thursday, university provost Walter Zakahi sent an email to all students announcing that the university will not be implementing a pass/fail option this semester.

After months of the student body pushing for the grading system through campus discourse, a petition, Student Senate presentations, emails to administration and social media posts, the justification for not implementing pass/fail seemed a little too brief.

“We realize other institutions have implemented a pass/fail option this semester,” the email said. “That may be the appropriate decision for them, but we have to make the decision we believe is best for Bradley University students.”

This vague explanation is frustrating. What makes Bradley different from the many other schools implementing the policy? What makes Bradley students better adjusted academically during this pandemic? As of publication, members of Student Senate have confirmed they have reached out asking for clarification with no response from the provost or the administration.

In early August, DePaul University announced its continuation of the temporary pass/fail grading option. Southern Illinois University is offering the option but encouraging students to meet with academic advisors before taking advantage of it. Just a couple of weeks ago, Northwestern University implemented a credit/no credit grading option, which allows students to remove the letter grade for up to one-third of courses this year.

“Our goal is to provide you with relief now and balance that with maximum optionality, considering the uncertainty of the coming months,” Northwestern University provost Kathleen Hagerty said in a statement to students.

This statement is not unique to Northwestern students, but all college students struggling through classes during the pandemic.

This is a word we’re tired of hearing, but one that has not lost their relevance: uncertainty.

While students are trying to adjust to virtual classes, their family members may have contracted the virus, or they themselves might be sick or in quarantine.

In the current state of economic depression, many students are pressured to either get a part-time job or pick up additional hours.
With limited opportunities for social interaction and constant quarantines and isolations, mental health is declining. All of these factors—and so many more situations we aren’t aware of—are influencing academic performance.

It’s fair to say the university has been accommodating so far. They’ve extended the deadline to opt-in for remote learning, made it easier to take a gap year and provided clarity about next semester’s course delivery options. The recent PR campaign has shown the university is thinking about faculty and student mental health.

However, none of these actions can make up for the instability we experience in a pandemic and the toll it’s taken on our mental health and personal lives.

Pass/fail is not right for everyone, and that’s what we assume Provost Zakahi was implying when he said, “students who are most likely to take the pass/fail option are the ones who are most negatively impacted by it.”

For students who are pursuing graduate school, pass/fail may not be the best way to build a competitive resume, though many graduate schools have decided to accept them. Students considering transferring to other schools may also face difficulty in transferring pass/fail credits. That being said, like last semester, students would be given the choice to opt-out.

The pass/fail that could be implemented this semester doesn’t have to be an exact copy of the one allowed last semester. Instead of opening the grading option to all courses, there could be limitations such as only BCC courses or with the approval of the professor to have the grading system for their class. Like Northwestern, Bradley could also limit the amount of courses students can remove the letter grade from.

Given the sensitivity, national popularity and campus push for the pass/fail option, the university owes students a better explanation. The pandemic has undoubtedly resulted in student instability, why should Bradley be an exception to the grading system to account for a semester of uncertainty?

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The Scout is published by members of the student body of Bradley University. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University.