To pass or not to pass

 During a one-week period in May, students will have the option to choose which of their classes get a letter grade and which receive a pass-fail grade. GRAPHIC BY LEO TEFOYA/GRAPHICS CENTER

Earlier this week, USF announced that a policy to allow students to choose a pass-fail option for some or all of their classes was approved. The news has left many students with questions and concerns about what that means and what the policy’s implementation will look like.

This week, the Foghorn staff wants to explore the pros and cons of this decision and how it will impact students. In many ways, this new option will relieve stress —  a lot of students are now in different time zones, scattered around the world, and adjusting to new living routines and learning styles, leaving less time, as well as mental and emotional capacity, for school. The pass-fail option is one way students can preserve their current GPAs, especially since this entire situation is out of our control. Most students are doing the best that they can in their given circumstances, which may not be the same “best” they could give in a controlled classroom environment. 

USF’s announcement did note that students will only have one week after final letter grades are posted to decide whether they want to change their letter grade to pass-fail. Additionally, some classes will be exempt from the policy. However, the exempt classes were not specified, nor were students given a timeline of when they can expect to know which classes might not be included. As a staff, we would’ve liked more specifics, especially since the option was announced at least a week later than at many other universities.

Additionally, assessing your grade to determine whether to keep it as a letter grade or a pass is stressful — let alone having to do so during a short, one-week period following finals. While it is nice that you get to see your final grade before deciding, the short time span and current lack of information do not ease all of our anxieties.

We would also like to know what the cutoff will be for a passing grade. Will professors choose, or will there be a set minimum? How will knowledge of the pass-fail option factor into professors’ teaching decisions? Some of us argue that professors should be teaching with the pass-fail in mind, rather than continuing as normal, since classes held over Zoom (or other online formats) are difficult in and of themselves and will never genuinely replicate an in-classroom setting. But would that penalize people who need the GPA boost? 

Lastly, the announcement email stated that students should talk to their academic adviser before making decisions, leaving many wondering if they will have to justify choosing pass-fail for one class, but perhaps not another. Will choosing a “P” be code for, “I messed up my grade and don’t want people to know,” or will it be viewed as completely fine, given the circumstances? Many of us the Foghorn wish that the pass-fail option was instead automatically applied to all classes, with the option to opt-out, so that students don’t feel any guilt when choosing pass-fail in an already stressful time. 

We as a staff have many questions — none of which were answered in the announcement email. While we are appreciative of the University making this option available for students, we wish there was more clarity surrounding this policy to truly alleviate our stress.


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