Pass/Fail option approved for all classes

Students at Framingham State can now request pass/fail grades for any or all of their courses taken during the Spring 2020 semester.

The University’s current policy, which limits students to one pass/fail grade per semester, has been suspended for the remainder of the academic year.

Responding to concerns from students and faculty over classes moving online due to COVID-19, the All University Committee (AUC) voted unanimously in favor of granting the option in a fast-tracked virtual meeting held Wednesday afternoon.

“I think it will clearly help a lot of our students – and faculty for that matter – deal with the stresses of moving everything online,” said Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs.

“All of our sister institutions have passed, or are in the process of passing, similar policies,” she added. “I think we’d be very remiss not to offer this protection to our students.”

For Spring 2020, the committee decided that a pass grade, which grants course credit, is equivalent to a D- or higher for all courses. This grade is not calculated into GPA.

“As long as you receive a grade of D- or higher, selecting a pass/fail grade will not affect your current GPA,” Zimmerman said in an email announcing the change, sent Wednesday evening.

A failing grade, below D-, does not grant course credit and still counts as zero points toward a student’s GPA.

The new temporary Pass/Fail Policy has been in the making since spring break, when Zimmerman and the University’s academic deans submitted a proposal for it to the Academic Policy Committee (APC).

“APC considered several possible implications of the policy,” said Laura Lamontagne, committee chair. These included implications to financial aid, the impact to students on academic probation, and classes that require prerequisite grades, among others.

“Ultimately, APC suggested some minor modifications, but decided this policy will help students navigate the new online format,” she told The Gatepost.

Prior to the policy change, many FSU students expressed concern over how moving to all online classes may affect their grades. A student-led Change.org petition advocating pass/fail be added for all classes was started by senior Andrew Knorr last month.

“Many students rely on in-person instruction and do not thrive in an online setting. Creating an opt-in option for a pass/fail grading system can increase fairness,” the petition states. 

The petition emphasized keeping pass/fail an option for students who prefer to remain on the letter grade scale and receive grades that will count toward their GPA.

It received 1,639 signatures by the time the policy change was announced Wednesday evening. However, it is unclear how many signers are actual students as the petition is public.

“I’m so happy the school decided to listen to the students and go with the trend other schools are regarding the pass/fail system,” Knorr told The Gatepost.

“I think they did a very good job implementing it in a way that will really benefit students,” he said. “I’m sure it made a lot of people happy!”

Some members of AUC did voice concerns about pass/fail being an option for students, rather than mandatory.

“There are some medical schools that are saying they’ll only accept pass/fail grades if students were not given a choice,” said Margaret Carroll, dean of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. She added that some graduate schools and at least one accrediting agency agree.

Larry McKenna, professor of physics and earth science, said, “the optional nature of the pass/fail option is – in my opinion – inequitable.”

He explained that some students may be less advantaged than others in online-only settings due to unfair differences in their ability to connect to the internet.

“Those with better situations at home will choose to accept their ‘A’s. Those who are, for no fault of their own, required to suffer through poor internet connections, will be forced to choose P/F, contributing to the very inequity we seek to avoid,” he said.

“I urge that we make the P/F mandatory for all students,” he added.

McKenna was not able to vote on the proposed policy as he had to leave the meeting to attend his office hours.

Zimmerman said she is also concerned about equity issues, but added that making the Pass/Fail Policy mandatory presents its own set of inequity challenges.

“There are students who may be on academic probation, and they were counting on this semester to bring their grades up so that they can get off of that,” she said. Other students may need grades to apply for graduate schools or become eligible for sports.

“If they’re earning good grades, they don’t want to lose that,” Zimmerman said. “They want those added into their GPA.”

Grades are also necessary to receive financial aid as well as to apply for scholarships and grants based on GPA, said Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development. “You can’t keep those with a pass/fail.”

Matty Benett, SGA president and AUC member, said students like himself appreciate having the option to choose pass/fail or retain their letter grades for their transcripts.

“It was already not our choice to not be on campus,” he said. “We should not, in my opinion, be forced into accepting a pass/fail system.”

Amanda Simons, associate professor of biology, said while she has concerns regarding the policy change, “I think it’s time to just accept that there’s not a perfect solution.

“Students are worried and faculty are worried,” she said. “It has to get done.”

The committee voted unanimously to approve the new policy.

Students may request pass/fail grades between May 18 and May 27 via MyFramingham to the University Registrar, according to Zimmerman’s email. They may view their original letter grade before submitting the request.

“I just wanted to say how impressed I am by how everybody on this committee and on APC pulled together to get something like this done,” said Zimmerman.

“I know that you’ve met at weird times and spent a lot of extra time on this, and I just can’t tell you how much I appreciate it and how much I admire your dedication,” she added.