AU students sign petitions for pass/fail classes in response to the coronavirus outbreak
Hundreds sign online petitions to give students a pass/fail option
Editor’s note: this article originally appeared on theeaglecoronavirusproject.com, a separate website created by Eagle staff at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020. Articles from that website have been migrated to The Eagle’s main site and backdated with the dates they were originally published in order to allow readers to access them more easily.
American University students have shown support for the institution to offer the option of making classes pass/fail for the remainder of the semester through online petitions.
There are currently two petitions circulating that are asking for AU to offer students the pass/fail option. One petition, created by senior Eric Perless on March 16, has over 2,500 signatures as of March 23. Perless began the petition after considering the disruptions that COVID-19 potentially has on students, including moving off campus and completing classes online as AU administration has implemented.
“A lot of students are scared right now and focused on the pandemic,” Perless said. “We just had our first community case at AU and some students’ families or friends may have the coronavirus. Students are dealing with things that are taking precedence over classwork.”
The other petition, created by freshman student Michael Brown, has over 600 signatures as of March 23 and was also started on March 16. In the petition, Brown mentioned difficulties facing students in “different time zones, especially international students.” As a student whose home time zone is Central Standard Time, it’s an issue that hits close to home for him.
“I live in Texas so I am an hour behind, which makes 8 a.m. classes quite an inconvenience,” Brown said.
When students were told about the school closing, he started to think how he would be affected by taking online classes.
“I then realized that there are multiple students, especially students who live in areas far from D.C. [the East Coast and internationally] who will have to change a lot to adjust to this new situation,” he said. “With different time zones, lack of access to academic support and possibly more work than given in person-to-person classes, it made sense that pass/fail needs to be an option extended past the March 20 deadline.”
The current deadline for pass/fail classes is through the tenth week of classes, and the drop period for classes has been extended to April 27. Under University regulations, a student may take no more than four pass/fail classes to graduate, and pass/fail classes can only be applied to elective credit. Students may also take no more than one pass/fail class per semester.
During a webinar with parents on March 16, Deputy Provost and Dean of Faculty Mary Clark said that while they are considering the option, some major classes require a letter grade in order for them to receive credit for their major.
“We are working through these issues right now, there has not been a determination made, but very much we have heard folk’s concerns and we’re looking to identify what type of flexibility and understanding we can provide,” Clark said.
On Sunday, the AU undergraduate senate passed a resolution that calls for the University to extend the pass/fail class deadline to April 27.
“Presently, the policy is that pass/fail classes can’t be classes that are in your major, but due to the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic, the senate is calling that we waive that specific requirement for the semester and extend the pass/fail not only to classes that are in your major, but all classes,” said Speaker of the Undergraduate Senate Jeremy Ward.
The resolution has no official effect on University policies, but Ward said he hopes that the administration will consider student voices on this issue.
“Now that the senate has passed it, as speaker I have to speak and fight on behalf of all passed legislation, so I will be speaking with Dean Waters and Provost Myers [on Monday] trying to see at what pace we can get to this place,” said Ward.
Ward also stressed that if this were to go into action, it would be optional and students would not have to switch to pass/fail classes if they did not want to.
Perless hopes that the administration will amend the pass/fail applicability and broaden it to courses that are mandatory for majors and minors, as well as other core classes to graduate. He also hopes that if the pass/fail policy were amended, AU would give students ample time to make the decision as to which courses they would take on a pass/fail basis.
“Students have to be able to give time to the online course they’re in and make that call between themselves and their families,” Perless said.
AU students have left comments on both petitions, sharing their personal reasons why a pass/fail option would be beneficial.
“Going through the comments really made me aware of how important this would be for a lot of members of our community,” Perless said. “When I first made the petition, I knew that this would help people, but when I started reading people’s stories in the comments, it struck me how personal a lot of this is.”
Daniella Ignacio contributed reporting to this article.