Changing pass/fail policies for this absurdly discombobulated semester


Yesterday, I was reading how some K-12 districts were switching to a pass/fail model for this semester. Two beats later, I thought — hey — this is something that looks important to college students too.

This morning, I saw that higher ed twitter has been talking about it, and many universities have already taken action. And it’s part of the discussion in the slack channel for my department (which after some years, is no longer moribund). So, this is a thing (and it’s not my idea), and if your institution isn’t on it, perhaps this would be a moment for some leadership and bring it up with the policy makers?

Here’s a blog post from this morning from Laura Gibbs that has a big list of the universities making this change, detailing the various approaches to temporary pass/fail policies that universities in the US are adopting. Perhaps you can find a model there that is best for your institution and your students.

As Gibbs points out, the policy from Carnegie Mellon University looks very promising: “Effective immediately, all undergraduate and graduate students will be permitted to convert any of your courses to pass/no-pass grading for this semester. All courses for which you receive passing (P) grades will count toward degree requirements, which overrides some departmental or college policies. At the end of the semester, all faculty will submit their course grades (A-R) to the registrar’s office. You will have 7 days after the date on which final grades are posted to choose to move your courses to pass/no-pass grading if you elect to do so.

I hope this is the one my university adopts.

Some students might actually want grades for the semester, for scholarships, or applying to professional schools, or whatnot. But others merely want to survive the semester with a passing grade and what’s going on in their own lives (and/or the professors’ lives) might do unduly harm to their grade. So let’s give the students the discretion to simply pass a class this semester, and still let it count towards graduation.

It would only take a few minutes to email this idea to the people enabled to make a decision about it. If you’re that person with the power, then it will take some more time to make this change. The sooner you switch to pass/fail, the sooner you can provide a slight measure of relief to students.

4 thoughts on “Changing pass/fail policies for this absurdly discombobulated semester

  1. Lots of faculty at my PUI have been suggesting this to the admin, but today we got an email saying that such a proposal would not be adopted.

  2. We have switched to a credit/no credit system which isn’t exactly pass fail but will behave similarly. The one difference to the policy you posted is that students have to select this system (in April) before final grades are posted.

  3. Terry, I’m happy to send an email.  To whom at CSUDH would I send that?  I still haven’t figure out who does what in admin. Sincerely,

    Kelley Dawdy

    • In general, for something like this, I think it starts with checking in with one’s chair to see if they know what the admin is currently doing about it, and then if appropriate, send an email to the dean and/or provost, cc’d to one’s chair. (In our particular case at CSUDH, I heard there was interest in moving towards pass/fail but there are apparently concerns about Title V compliance that are slowing things down? But that doesn’t quite make sense to me, based on the little I’ve heard, because so many other campus who have Title V support are presumably doing this move too.)

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