After over 1,200 individuals signed a petition for a Pass/Fail grade system to be adopted for the Winter 2020 semester, Southern Adventist University administrators declined the proposal, deciding instead to ask professors to be flexible with students on an individual basis.
The decision to not do Pass/Fail grades was officially announced to students on Wednesday, April 8, at 4:09 p.m. via email.
“Southern’s administration worked through the decision with our students’ best interest at heart,” said senior vice president of Academic Administration, Bob Young. “We focused on how we could effectively help the most students, recognizing the greater need for flexibility and accommodation.”
On Tuesday at 10 a.m., Young met with Pass/Fail grade campaigners Tiago Ferreira and Luis Moreno to inform them of the decision to proceed with a standard grading system.
“He did have this meeting just to inform us, not to discuss the initiative with us,” Ferreira said. “The part that I’m most worried about is not that the Pass/Fail initiative didn’t go through, but that there was a disregard for the student voice in the academic decision-making process that directly influences us.”
Young responded to this concern saying, “We value the input that students provided via the petition, as well as from those who contacted us directly. While not every student weighed in, a broad sampling did, giving us insight into a range of student sentiments on the topic. We always welcome student feedback and encourage students to reach out to us any time.”
Both Ferreira and Moreno expressed their wish that a student had been allowed to attend the administration’s meetings regarding the decision about semester grades.
“Simply allow us to be part of these meetings,” Ferreira said. “Allow us to voice our concerns and opinions at a point in decision-making where it actually matters; not after the fact, not being told, ‘This is what’s going to happen.’”
In an email to faculty on Monday at 7:36 p.m. (EDT), Young announced the decision to not use the Pass/Fail grade strategy. The email presented four downsides that influenced the decision: 1) Pass/Fail grades may have a negative effect on student admission to graduate schools; 2) a Pass grade has no impact on students’ GPAs, while a Fail grade has the full effect of a regular F grade on their GPAs; 3) once a grade has been converted to Pass/Fail, it cannot be converted back to a letter grade in the future; and 4) a change like this has the potential to negatively affect institution accreditations.
Young asked professors to consider offering Incomplete grades for the semester, allowing students to make up partial courses during a future term, without having to register or pay tuition for the class. He also recommended analyzing grades before submitting them to “ensure that they are appropriate and do not significantly depart from the typical grade distributions for [their] courses in the past.” And he asked them to make their adjustments “in a way that maintains the integrity of the academic enterprise, while recognizing that this semester is significantly different from previous terms.”
“Instead of applying a one-size-fits-all approach, we are trusting each faculty member to make accommodations that best fit their students and course,” Young wrote. “If we all unite in this effort, we believe it will yield a more favorable outcome for our students than other across-the-board options would.”
Moreno personally experienced receiving a failing grade on a quiz because he lacked access to WiFi.
“I don’t think that asking professors to accommodate students on a case-by-case basis will be enough,” he said. “I don’t think it will be effective because there are professors that just won’t listen; but I think students should be proud of trying to enact change.”