Students face less leniency with pass/fail requests


Photo credit: Rachel Kaufman

photo provided by Rachel Kaufman

This past spring, on April 22, students received an email from Deneese Jones, vice president for Academic Affairs, detailing that all pass/fail course requests would be accepted through the end of fall 2020 regardless of whether the course was for elective, Pathways, or major or minor credit. This semester, Trinity students were limited to declaring a fall 2020 course as pass/fail by Sept. 30.

After the sudden shift in course expectations in March, students immediately began to face new forms of academic pressure alongside the many stressors of COVID-19.

Noticing these issues, Rachel Kaufman, junior sociology major, took it into her own hands to institute the changes students needed to be successful in spring 2020.

“With the pandemic in mind, everyone was pretty stressed out about classes and sent home, so I reached out to Dr. [Sarah Beth] Kaufman saying, ‘Hey, what do you think we should do?’” said Kaufman. “I developed a survey for the student body to see how everyone’s mental health was and about whether or not they thought extending pass/fail would be at all beneficial to their wellbeing during this time.”

After receiving survey responses from over 1200 students, Kaufman presented the information to the faculty senate and the board of trustees with the aid of the Student Government Association. Soon after, the announcement on temporary changes to the rules on pass/fail course requests was made to students.

“The fall 2020 deadline for making such requests is meant to give you ample time for consultation and careful decision-making,” wrote Jones in the email announcement, sent on April 22. “… I am especially humbled by the willingness of individual students to stand up not for themselves, but for fellow students, as we navigate this ongoing crisis together.”

Despite little change in academic, national and personal stressors, there was only a two-week extension of the fall 2020 semester’s pass/fail course request deadline from mid-Sept. to Sept. 30. As during normal circumstances, only one class per semester may be permitted as pass/fail, and no class permitted may be a major or minor requirement, nor a class used to meet a Common Curriculum or Pathways requirement.

“For the fall 2020 semester, students and faculty had time to prepare, and in fact, my colleagues put in thousands of hours gearing up to support student success in hundreds of different ways,” said Michael Soto, associate vice president for Academic Affairs.

While the fall semester is not the same as this past spring, there is still a feeling of unfamiliarity and uncertainty among students. Many students feel as though a pass/fail on their transcript could be damaging to their GPA and future plans for things such as graduate school,

“I think pass/fail classes are a risky thing, and I don’t know that I would ever take them myself,” said Aubrey Featherston, first-year. “I don’t think that more than one pass/fail class should be allowed.”

Kaufman disagrees with this concern.

“A lot of schools, like law schools or med schools, have already come to the understanding that students are going to have to pass/fail during these times. This is out of the ordinary,” said Kaufman.

Although it seems as though much concern regarding pass/fail comes from students’ worries about their GPA, a few complaints actually came from professors and their feelings towards class performance.

“Dr. Soto explained to me that certain faculty members were complaining that students were not up to standards to pass/fail their prerequisites, my guess being that it’s a lot in the STEM department,” said Kaufman. “My thing is, if they pass/fail[ed] for a reason back then, they probably still have that same reason right now.”

With the pandemic raging in the United States for over six months now, many students have faced both economic and mental setbacks with no end in sight.

“A lot of students have also had to get jobs during this time, as their parents lost jobs or they’re having to pay to live off-campus,” said Kaufman. “Students, regardless of whether or not they pass/failed their prerequisites, are going into this semester at a deficit.”

Across the nation, students have been underperforming in school due to the many challenges of the pandemic, many of which directly affect the student body. However, unlike last semester, it seems as though there is less leeway for students in meeting the high standards that Trinity requires of them.

“Maybe, just maybe, these students are underprepared because of the emotional labor and burden of a global pandemic, and they don’t have the ability to be at their 100%, and they have every right,” said Kaufman. “They’re paying to go to this institution, to be given that leniency.”

Despite these many setbacks, students continue to search for ways to relieve stress and succeed under such dire circumstances. Whether or not the pass/fail policy will revert back to that of last semester or remain the same is currently unknown.

“I feel this intense obligation to figure out something,” said Kaufman. “I can’t sit right knowing that students are in need: I want to be able to do something right now to the best of my ability.”