Murmurs of a pass/fail option for the Fall 2020 semester have been circulating around campus lately, occurring amidst the increasing number of coronavirus cases, as well as the strict regulations affecting campus and beach life.

Mark Ligas, Ph.D., vice provost for undergraduate excellence, provided some direction as to where these rumors might have originated.

“At this time, I know that the Academic Council, which is the executive ‘arm’ of the general faculty, is both discussing Fairfield’s existing pass/fail policy and looking at pass/fail policies of other institutions,” Ligas said. “However, no discussion has occurred about whether pass/fail will be instituted this semester or in a future semester.” 

The Fairfield University Student Association recently responded to an influx of student questions regarding this issue via an email sent out Nov. 13. The organization’s message included the following statement: “At this time, students cannot opt to change a course grade to pass/fail for the Fall 2020 semester.”  

The email emphasized how the existing pass/fail policy requires approval before the semester begins. The respective department and curriculum committee must agree that a course fits the appropriate requirements to operate as pass/fail, and under this current policy, pass/fail has to apply to every student in the course.  

As mentioned in this email, the Council has yet to seriously consider these potential options for the Fall 2020 semester.  However, Brian Walker Ph.D., a professor in the biology department and a member of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, stated that the Academic Council has started a discussion about analyzing pass/fail and how this potential option should be treated across the University. 

“The Faculty Academic Council asked the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee to begin to examine a new policy related to pass/fail that is more student-focused,” said Walker.  “Before the coronavirus, it was only the faculty who decided if they wanted their class to be pass/fail. The goal is to let the students have more of a say in whether courses can be taken pass/fail, with obvious restrictions.” 

The discussion around the pass/fail option consists of questions regarding how many times students should have the ability to utilize a pass/fail option during their time at Fairfield.  The Council also has to consider how many times a student should be able to implement this option during a given semester.  

Other factors, such as the student’s year of study and the relevance of a class to their degree also play into this conversation about pass/fail. These discussion points all exist not so much as a plan for the Fall 2020 semester, but rather as a proactive step to better prepare for the future. 

“The purpose of this policy is so that the emergency policy from last semester doesn’t need to occur,” explained Walker. Though the University had a faculty-driven pass/fail policy, Walker believes that last semester’s situation and the nature of the pandemic forced an inevitable reevaluation of how it should function under extraordinary circumstances.  

There remains no date in sight regarding when the Committee will make a policy change.  Walker explains that these conversations still need to get much more in-depth before the faculty can hope to finalize a decision.  

For the possibility of this semester specifically having a pass/fail policy, Walker personally does not see a need for it.  

“I personally don’t think it should be implemented for this semester. Last semester was different, it was a change mid-course. This semester, we pretty much knew what we were getting into,” he explained. “Students need to also be more educated about ramifications of what pass/fail can mean for their future.”     

The Academic Council and Undergraduate Curriculum Council have their focus on sculpting a pass/fail policy not unique to this semester, but for future semesters that operate under non-pandemic circumstances.  

“It’s hard to imagine making a policy based on this unreal semester,” noted Walker. “I would imagine, however, that whatever policy is suggested, it will not be like what happened last semester.”

FUSA’s email sent to all students on Nov. 13 included their public support of a permanent pass/fail policy that would allow for individual students to request for pass/fail in a given course.  The organization plans on advocating for this option specifically for the Fall 2020 semester, if the Academic Council denies their initial proposal.

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