It has now been a month since Fairfield University students were asked not to return to campus for the remainder of the semester due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In the meantime, students and faculty have found themselves scrambling to adjust to a new reality of online classes while also contending with changes to their personal lives that have come about due to widespread lockdowns. With so much of everyday life being upended, a sizable group of students at Fairfield had been fighting to persuade university officials to alter the pass/fail policy, a move that many say would make attending college in the age of COVID-19 a bit more bearable. Spearheading the effort were leaders of the Fairfield University Student Association, who started a petition to change the policy, which garnered nearly 2,000 signatures.
It appears that their message got through; FUSA announced in an email last week that after an emergency meeting, the academic council voted to allow for the creation of an individual opt-in pass/fail system. “We are so thankful for the students who reached out and shared their personal stories and feedback about an individual opt-in pass/fail policy,” FUSA vice president Noelle Guerrera said in a statement. “It was these personal emails that allowed us to advocate on behalf of the students for an individual pass/fail policy this semester.” There will be no limit to the number of courses that a student can opt to be graded as pass/fail, and students do not have to provide any justification for choosing pass/fail. The deadline for a student to decide is April 29. The Office of the Provost will be sending out an email in the coming days with more details, as well as instructions on how to designate a course as pass/fail.
Under the former policy, whether or not a course was designated as pass/fail, which entails the letter “P” or the letter “F” being placed on a student’s transcript as opposed to a letter grade, was left to the discretion of the course’s instructor. He or she would have had to seek approval from their respective academic department. If a course was designated as pass/fail, every student in the course was required to be graded as such. In other words, under the prior policy, it was not possible for some students in a class to receive a grade of pass/fail and for others to receive a letter grade.
This technicality resulted in some professors being reluctant to switch to a pass-fail grading system due to concern that it would unfairly disadvantage students who were doing very well in a course. But, now that students can simply opt-in to receiving a pass/fail grade if they want to and decline to if they don’t, some say that this reservation no longer has any legs to stand on.
“Making sure that students were able to choose and decide what was best for them without impacting the grades received by their peers seemed like the most fair policy that would help the most students,” said Guerrera.
Many students expressed relief in regard to the policy change, and believed that it would make life easier for them.
“No one chose this terrible pandemic and it is taking a toll on everyone differently,” said Julia Talamini ‘22. “A little bit of choice in at least our potential grades during this time will definitely ease our minds.”
Sophomore Caroline Lanzillotta agreed: “I think having an opt-in pass fail system will be beneficial for me and my peers. I have definitely had trouble transitioning to working from home and making this choice gives me some certainty in my grades.”
Other students, meanwhile, did not seem to think that the change was necessary, and did not think that it would make much of a difference either way.
John Fee ‘22 said, “I think the opt-in pass/fail system is definitely more reasonable than the forced pass/fail some professors were implementing. I do, however, think that it would have been more reasonable to keep the grading system the way it was because I personally didn’t see a problem in having grades that reflect 3/4 of a semester’s work.”
Others still said that they could understand why some people would not be supportive of the new policy.
Junior Isobel Dagon put it like this: “Some might not support the pass/fail policy because they believe that having an option for pass/fail is an easy way for students to get by without trying as hard.”
However, there was a widespread consensus among the student body that online classes were not equivalent to in-person classes and that, in many ways, they are more difficult.
“Since classes moved online, I’ve found it much harder to grasp the material and pay attention during lectures,” said Fee. “Further, I feel like getting work done has been a challenge in and of itself. While I’m at home, I’m lacking resources like classmates and labs to help with work in class that requires problem solving, which I’ve found to be a huge disadvantage,” he continued.
Overall, it appears that most students feel that even if the new policy isn’t perfect, they could understand why it was put in place. There is agreement that desperate times call for desperate measures amid a situation that no one wants, but that everyone must learn to live with anyway.
Sports Editor Julia Lanzillotta contributed to this report.