OPINION: University’s current pass/no pass policy should be revisited

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Gracie Watt

St. Edward’s students can currently choose two classes to be taken as pass/no pass.

Most days that I open the lid of my laptop and walk my fingers across the Zoom University campus to click my way to class, my head isn’t the clearest. When my teachers begin their lessons, I try to tune in, but it’s usually not them that I hear talking to me. It’s the walls around me. Or my phone. Or a hangnail that I’ve been picking at.

So, when I heard about the Student Government Association (SGA) and Academic Council’s Pass/No Pass proposals at a Monday evening Hilltop Views budget meeting, I was especially inclined to take the story assignment and write my opinion on the pluses and minuses of both proposals (which would’ve taken a business week); one day later, a decision had already been made. 

First, I was surprised at how quickly a resolution was settled upon. My next thought was, “I don’t know where to start writing.” After all, the e-mail sent out by Dr. Prall detailing the Pass/No Pass policy changes seemed reasonably agreeable at my first glance. My first semester wasn’t too difficult, I only struggled a little bit. “What even is my opinion?” I pondered.

My pondering turned into stalling, and the days of the week that I should’ve spent developing a story came and went. The only thing I did do was send an e-mail to SGA from whom I couldn’t find a reply. Then came Friday, Feb. 5.

I walked to the Hunt dining hall around 7:30 p.m. When I arrived, I remembered that the Global Grill was closed, and let out a sigh into my mask. I still had to get something to eat, though, so I ordered the turkey burger with tots. As I waited for my order, I leaned against the waste bins. I had nearly given up on the idea that I, a newbie journalist, could write a story which had the potential to influence change. That sounded like a lot. But, I turned around. 

Turning around was important because I started to look at the framed pictures of SGA that were hanging behind me. I asked two girls who were also waiting for their food, “Do you know how I can contact the student government?” They started to tell me where they thought my best chances of contacting SGA were, but as they talked, a figure approaching me in my peripherals distracted my attention. That figure turned out to be Tony Ho, who introduced himself as a school senator. 

Ho was the spokesperson that attended the SGA and Academic Council meeting to pitch SGA’s proposal for a new Pass/No Pass policy. He forged the proposal with the help of senators Stella Cunningham, Maddie Benbenek and Nicky Ishaak, who worked together on writing it for over a month and a half. While my turkey burger still sizzled, Ho and I talked. He passionately but forlornly described the hours of concessions that he sat through while trying to advocate for the student body. 

His advocacy (you can find SGA’s original proposal here) ended in a settlement that he was initially disappointed in, because so much of the proposal that Ho presented to Academic Council was aimed towards ensuring that all students, not just “the most academically at-risk students,” could have access to an academic safety net. The safety net that Ho was seeking to establish would have extended through the end of the school year and simultaneously been reflected backwards to the beginning of the school year.

Specifically, SGA proposed giving students the right to “select up to 4 classes, or a total of 12 hours, to apply the Pass/No Pass policy between the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semester; the total will be 4 classes or 12 hours for the 2020 – 2021 academic year.” For those classes, “students with grades ranging from B+ to F can opt-in to the Pass/No Pass policy. Grades from B+ to D will be considered “Pass” while a grade of F will be considered “No Pass.” SGA also wanted to extend the withdrawal and Pass/No Pass decision deadline to May 6.

The withdrawal deadline is April 5. Students can only choose two classes (six credit hours) from the Spring 2021 semester to apply the Pass/No Pass decision to, and they can’t be major or minor requirements or require a minimum grade to progress classes.  There is also no retroactive decision to choose Pass/No Pass for classes taken in the Fall 2020 semester. A “No Pass” policy is also in effect for this semester, which allows students to lose an “F” on their report card without the failure of the class affecting their GPA, although the student would lose the credits.

From what I could gather from my conversation with Ho, our student government put a ton of effort into drafting and delivering their proposal, but it didn’t pan out to the change they felt they could make; their effort shouldn’t go unnoticed. And, as a matter of fact, the student body’s effort shouldn’t go unnoticed either. 

Simply put, this year has been an academic atrocity for all students. Everywhere. We’re all “academically at-risk students.” In the wake of a winter storm that delayed classes for a week and only served to heighten stress levels, confusion and mid-semester malaise, the issue of academic struggles deserves to be brought back to light.

So, if you’re a St. Ed’s student and you’d like the chance for the Pass/No Pass issue to be re-visited (or clarified), drop a comment underneath this article to write a few sentences about how your school year has been and if you feel that simply having the option to apply a Pass/No Pass to more than two classes this semester and getting rid of more than an “F” could’ve and can still help you. And, if you’d like your story to be highlighted in a follow-up article, you can send me an email directly at [email protected].