OPINION: UNCW must reconsider rejection of pass/fail option


College student studying from home. Photo by Green Chameleon

Emma Sheeran, Opinion Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in many ways, including our schools and education. Since the onset of the pandemic, many universities have offered students a pass/fail option for their courses. Pass/fail is an option that allows students to replace letter grades on their transcript with either a pass or a fail. This is an attractive option for students nationwide who are struggling with the remote learning format.  

UNCW recently made a statement regarding this option, stating that “the Faculty Senate has decided NOT to grant students a pass/fail option for this fall semester. This was a faculty decision, and substantial adjustments to grading policies are a last resort for understandable reasons.” There are many things wrong with this statement given by the Faculty Senate.  

The statement claims that the option of pass/fail would be a “substantial adjustment” to grading policies. This is merely a dramatization of the matter.  

Allowing the option of pass/fail is not a substantial adjustment in the least. In fact, pass/fail is simply an accommodation given to students by an understanding, empathetic and kind administration.  

Moreover, the statement mentions that changes to grading policies are a “last resort” option. The Faculty Senate needs to accept that we are experiencing a relentless pandemic with no end currently in sight. Making changes to grading policies should not be considered a last resort optionThe question that should be asked during of all conversations pertaining to the university’s response to the pandemic is: How can we optimize student learning and experience during these unknown times 

This decision made by the university completely disregards the wellbeing and success of students. Students need the option to pass/fail during these challenging and stressful times. COVID-19 and its impact on learning has resulted in heightened levels of anxiety and depression among students nationwide. In fact, a recent study found that 71% of college students have increased amounts of stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The pass/fail option is absolutely necessary during these unprecedented times. If courses are only offered online, then it is only fair to present students this option. Experts are saying that “the mental, emotional and academic impacts of the shift to remote learning are likely going to be challenging.” Many students are struggling to adjust to the new format for several reasons. Lack of hands-on experience, unsuitable study spaces and increased distractions are just a few of the reasons remote learning is challenging students.  

It is unreasonable to ask students to quickly adapt to the remote learning format and leave them without an alternative grading option. Pass/fail does not harm students or their reputation in any way. This option does not affect GPA, which helps relieve some school-related anxiety caused by this new normal.  

The option to pass/fail is a forgiving and reasonable accommodation that universities nationwide need to offer. The pandemic has caused many students to earn lower grades this semester than they would have during a “normal” semester. Universities need to protect the academic integrity of their students by providing the alternative option of pass/fail. Not only does this take the pressure off of the student, but it also builds credibility for the school.  

UNCW must reconsider their decision and analyze the many negative affects it will have on the student body. Pass/fail is a simple accommodation that UNCW needs to implement in their response to the continuing pandemic. The university’s decision to refuse pass/fail plainly displays a lack of concern from the faculty. It’s disrespectful and unacceptable to deny this option to students paying tuition.