The U of M has announced that students will be given the option to have winter 2020 courses take on a pass/fail grading scheme on their transcripts in response to academic hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement follows the university’s previous decision to allow students to selectively exclude letter grade courses from GPA calculations for the winter 2020 term, an option that will remain.
The university announced these changes after a petition created by engineering student Andrew Sadik on change.org advocating flexible course assessments quickly garnered more than 6,000 signatures.
“I started this petition because of a clear realization that the studying conditions of winter 2020 are not what students signed up for,” said Sadik.
Sadik said he believed that, even though the U of M “had taken many crucial steps to facilitate remote learning and online resources for continued education,” the changes to course delivery had a negative impact for both students and instructors.
He said that although he is pleased with the steps the university and UMSU have taken in recent days, he urged them to remember “that there is no ‘One size fits all’ solution to this situation” and that faculty should continue to co-ordinate with students and instructors to create beneficial solutions well-suited to the circumstances.
“Empowering students and valuing their perception are steps in the right direction,” he said.
A recent update from vice-provost (students) Laurie Schnarr reads that “Students, except for those in the faculty of law, can choose whether or not to receive a ‘pass’ grade instead of a letter grade.”
“This option will apply to all winter term or spanned courses that you complete by April 2020. Students must have achieved a letter grade of D or higher to exercise this option.”
The message also says that if a student chooses this option, the pass designation will appear on their transcripts, flagged with a notation that they made this decision due to the COVID-19 situation.
“However, it is important to note that course grades of ‘pass’ will not normally be used to satisfy prerequisites. You should not choose this option if your program specifies a grade of C or higher is required for courses counted towards the degree.”
It also notes that failing grades in the winter term will automatically be excluded from GPA calculations.
UMSU vice-president advocacy Sarah Bonner-Proulx said the union has been advocating for the pass/fail option “quite strongly.”
“We do think it is a positive change, and our goal at the end of the day is to allow students the most option and the most flexibility to be able to decide for themselves what works best for them, acknowledging that these circumstances have affected students uniquely,” she said.
Bonner-Proulx, along with specific faculties, particularly the engineering faculty, are advocating to raise the “pass” minimum to a C.
“We had proposed that a 60 per cent be a pass, and that is because a C, across the board for most faculties, is what is needed in order to qualify as a prerequisite for other courses, as well as to maintain good academic standing,” she said.
Bonner-Proulx urged the university community to recognize the effects recent events have on students.
“With these unprecedented times, we need to take measures that reflect these changes and that accommodate students in a way that is best for them,” she said.
“And from whether speaking anecdotally or empirically, we know that this has affected students in a number of different ways that go far beyond just the classroom and learning.”