Administrators should extend pass/fail policy to fall semester

Students are now taking their classes from all across the country – all while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on their work, families and friends. All the while, students are expected to achieve optimal grades as though the health crisis hasn’t seeped into our academic lives. That is a frivolous expectation and can absolutely be changed.

Officials decided last spring that students and professors were facing enough hardship and allowed classes to be taken on an optional Pass/No Pass basis. The policy helped alleviate burdens brought on by the pandemic when it first hit D.C., but since then, things have arguably gotten worse. Some students have needed to pick up extra work, care for family members or younger siblings who are also learning from home or face learning setbacks that make it harder to stare at a computer screen for hours.

Freshmen are dealt with an even bigger adjustment. The transition from high school to college is tough as is, and going virtual rips them from their first year at GW. They can’t acclimate to college work with the help of their peers, advisers and professors. And let’s be real, everyone is lacking motivation while taking classes in childhood bedrooms.

Professors are not only out of their element in teaching classes online, but they need to do much more work to make their courses accessible for everyone. Officials may say that professors had more time to prepare for this transition, but that doesn’t change the fact that our environment simply is not conducive to learning.

The University needs to extend the Pass/No Pass and Credit/No Credit policies to this fall. Students are paying for an education, not the grades attached to it, and they shouldn’t feel unfair pressure to succeed when the odds are stacked against them. 

“Implementing optional Pass/No Pass for the fall semester would be, at the very least, a humane gesture that lets students and faculty know that GW cares. At best, it would be a saving grace for students and faculty who are legitimately suffering right now.”

Switching to a pass/fail grading scale could both ease the pressure on students and improve in-class performance. Many students utilized the policy in the spring, showing its popularity and need among students. While professors are attempting their best, students may feel as if they are having to teach themselves – which defeats the purpose of class time and lecture hours. It’s too much to expect students to spend however many hours in class, then even more time drowning in assignments or readings to understand the lesson. Throw poor WiFi or a job in the mix and students simply cannot learn to the best of their ability. 

The policy would redound to faculty’s benefit as well. Professors are under immense pressure to do the impossible: build a virtual environment conducive to student success with limited time and resources. The reality is that virtual learning is a contingency, not an alternative, and expecting both faculty and students to perform at their highest level during a pandemic is unrealistic. A Pass/No Pass option would let professors focus on conveying material and ensuring students’ learning, rather than forcing them to rely on graded assignments. This is especially relevant for fine arts and laboratory classes, which are even harder to replicate over Zoom. It would also insulate students from having their grades suffer from poor instructional quality that may not be anybody’s fault. 

Adopting the policy is also a completely costless way for the University to improve student morale and feelings toward the University. The relationship between administrators and the GW community right now could be charitably described as frayed – students and faculty have repeatedly expressed a lack of confidence in the administration. Acceding to the pleas of students and implementing Pass/No Pass would redound to administrators’ benefit, as the gesture could win back some good will with the student body. And if officials are concerned that pass/fail classes would set students back from graduate school acceptances, they can make the policy optional as they’ve done in the spring. 

Despite these many upsides – and fervent support for the policy by students – administrators has been loath to make the swap. To be fair, their concerns are valid at face value. Administrators mainly worry that implementing Pass/No Pass could dissuade both students and faculty from putting in the appropriate amount of work. But this concern is probably overblown. Students would still have to work to pass their classes – this would not be a Brownie points system and hard work would still be expected. What would be disincentivized, though, is students spinning themselves into a whirlwind of stress about turning a C+ into a B- while dealing with a hellish pandemic. 

Many top-echelon schools that GW often seeks to emulate have announced Pass/No Pass policies for this semester, namely many of the Ivy League schools and the University of California system. Since only a few of GW’s peer schools, Tufts, Georgetown and New York universities, have made the option available, GW has the potential to lead its peers in implementing Pass/No Pass for the semester.

Implementing optional Pass/No Pass for the fall semester would be, at the very least, a humane gesture that lets students and faculty know that GW cares. At best, it would be a saving grace for students and faculty who are legitimately suffering right now. The pandemic era is lobbing brick after brick at college kids right now – making life just a little easier for them would go a long way. 

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Hannah Thacker and contributing opinions editor Andrew Sugrue, based on discussions with managing director Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, managing editor Parth Kotak, sports editor Emily Maise, culture editor Anna Boone and design editor Olivia Columbus. 

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