The Office of the Provost recently informed students of modifications in the Fall 2020 semester’s pass/fail policy, via an email sent to students on Nov. 23. The message both congratulated students for enduring such an unprecedented semester and empathized with them for the corresponding struggles they have endured.  

This policy change allows students to elect for two non-major courses to be graded as pass/fail. This change, along with the option for students to withdraw from classes, has a deadline of Dec. 11, the last day of classes for the fall semester.

The Office of the Provost encourages students to take great caution in utilizing either of these options and to consult with an advisor or instructor before doing so.   

These policy modifications arrive very late into the semester. Though initial feedback from the committees involved seem to indicate that no changes would be made, reevaluations occurred in response to persistent appeals from the student body.  

The Fairfield University Student Association responded to concerns expressed by the student body by advocating for a pass/fail policy similar to that of the Spring 2020 semester.

Throughout this semester, FUSA heard from students who voiced concerns about their academic continuity given circumstances surrounding COVID-19, and because of this, we felt that we needed to advocate for the creation of a pass/fail policy similar to the one implemented in Spring 2020,” said Jaclyn Burns ‘21, a member of FUSA.  

We are thankful for all the feedback and input that students shared with us, and appreciate the Academic Council’s willingness to listen to and consider students’ concerns,” added Burns. “We hope the new modifications will provide relief to those who have expressed the need for it during this challenging time.

Even though these modifications alleviate the hardships endured by many students this semester, the change also puts many people in unideal positions.  

Some students in these difficult circumstances have already withdrawn from courses out of fear of their grade point average suffering. While they may have opted to remain in the course if the policy had been modified sooner, they can not benefit from the policy now that they have already dropped it. Additionally, many professors now have to endure additional pressures and unrealistic expectations from their students.  

English professor Shannon Kelley, Ph.D., dealt with such difficulties last spring.  

“The pass/fail option caused a handful of students to email for their final grades and ask me to grade faster,” said Kelley. “Then, students with fairly decent grades reverted to pass/fail, which seemed strange to me. At least one student who ended up doing great on the final exam asked to then switch back to being graded to help his overall GPA.”

These behaviors highlight one of the policy’s shortcomings.

“I guess everyone wants the best possible GPA, and this tool helps students select which grades count,” noted Kelley.

Nonetheless, she certainly sees how this option could be beneficial to students. 
“We’re all under a ton of stress right now, so mental health reasons combined with intense course demands in the major/minor and issues related to GPAs for graduate school admissions would make me inclined to approve the pass/fail option,” added Kelley.  

Nazuk Sharma, Ph.D., of the marketing department also recognized the benefits to pass/fail.  

“Given the current pandemic situation, it is nice that our University has offered students this option,” she said. “If my advisees come and ask me about it–and this is my personal opinion– I would recommend them to take the option only if it’s absolutely necessary.”

Sharma encourages students to maximize their opportunities and strive for the highest grade possible, but she acknowledges that sometimes, a student’s circumstances prevent them from doing so.

While this semester has created a greater demand for this policy to exist, students still should not resort to this option without great caution and genuine need. Angela Biselli, Ph.D., of the physics department echoed this sentiment. 

I can see that pass/fail could be beneficial for some extreme circumstances related to family or personal issues,” observed Biselli. “However, this semester I have made many adjustments to my courses to take into account problems related to the pandemic and/or the online teaching, and I am hoping my students will not opt for a pass/fail.

Despite this preference to avoid pass/fail, professors still recognize the potential future benefits of the policy. 

Going forward, when we’re out of this pandemic zone and operating normally, a pass/fail policy can further help students in exploring electives that they may be too scared to approach otherwise,” said Sharma. “It can offer them more flexibility towards experimentation, which the University already encourages through its curriculum.

Biselli reiterated this notion, explaining how students taking electives which end up being much harder than expected could benefit from pass/fail, as could students who end up switching  their major while enrolled in classes specifically for that major. However, this reality does not stop Biselli from advising against pass/fail in most scenarios.

Any post-graduate program will look at the transcripts and will consider that pass/fail as minimal achievement,” added Biselli. 

On December 4th, Mark Ligas Ph.D emailed the student body on behalf of the Provost office.  This message detailed the specific stipulations regarding this policy, including some important warnings.  

So, while the faculty and administration advise students to avoid this option if possible, the policy modifications clearly display recognition for the benefits which it can provide.

On December 4th, Mark Ligas Ph.D emailed the student body on behalf of the Provost office.  This message detailed the specific stipulations regarding this policy, including some important warnings.  

Please consult with the Assistant Dean of your school if you would like to withdraw from a class, as you will need to complete the necessary course withdrawal paperwork,” said Ligas. “Keep in mind that course withdrawals could change your status (from full- to part-time), which could in turn impact certain financial aid and/or scholarship awards.



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