After back and forth student petitions, Southern Adventist University’s administration announced its approval for optional pass/fail grading on April 22. According to an email from President David Smith, this temporary policy change for Winter 2020 is meant to help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent tornado in the Collegedale area.
According to the email, professors will continue to grade undergraduate students on a letter-grade scale and submit those as final grades. Once students receive their grades, they will have the choice to fill out an online form selecting which grades, if any, they would like to convert to a “P” or “F” grade. The form will be available by May 18 and due on May 22.
As stated in the email, per existing academic policies, a D- or better qualifies for a “P” grade in general education and elective courses while a C- or better will qualify as a “P” grade in most major or minor courses. “P” grades will not impact GPAs in any way but an “F” grade will have the same impact it would on a regular grading scale.
But not all courses will be eligible for pass/fail grading. According to Southern’s newly created pass/fail grading option webpage, “School deans and department chairs can exempt certain courses and/or programs from the P/F option when accreditation or other considerations require letter grading.” A list of exempted courses will be available on the website when finalized.
This approval comes more than three weeks after it was proposed by students and two weeks after it was originally rejected by Academic Administration. The petition created by senior international development studies major Tiago Ferreira on March 31 received over 1,000 signatures in less than three days and now has more than 1,200 signatures. According to Smith, the reconsideration began last week following a tornado that struck Southern’s campus and surrounding areas. “It became more apparent that the impact of that event on both faculty and local students was significant,” Smith said in an interview. “At the same time, we were becoming more aware of what the student experience was with online learning.”
Additionally, Smith said that many of the doubts that originally made Academic Administration hesitant became more clear in the weeks after the petition was turned down. He said they now believe that many post-graduate programs will be more flexible with “P” grades than originally expected. For example, he said, Loma Linda University’s School of Medicine may accept “P” grades from applicants but also place more value on the MCAT test scores than usual.
After it was rejected the first time around, students shifted their petition and began appealing for an adjusted grading scale similar to ones implemented at Oakwood University and other academic institutions.
Junior psychology major Luis Moreno, who helped lead both petitions, said he was shocked and a little confused when he first heard the pass/fail option was approved.
“I feel as though the students, in general, were rooting for the grading scale change even more than they were rooting for the pass/fail option, so it might be a little disappointing,” Moreno said. “I hope that the pass/fail option helps the students somehow.”
Moreno also noted that whether they had already been previously accommodating or not, many professors grew more lenient after the tornado impact caused classes to be cancelled last week. He hopes this will help people in unique situations.
“Everyone who is affected has their own unique situation.,” Moreno said. “No one is 100 percent unaffected by going to distance learning.”
However, Smith said that he and many others from Administration and faculty felt as if the adjusted grading scale altered or diminished the meaning of a grade too much. He believes the adjusted scale had a very narrow chance of being passed by the University Senate which is made up of mostly administrators and faculty.
“If you say that a C grade is from 50 to 69 percent, and if a D grade is from 0 to 49 [percent], you’re basically saying the grades don’t mean anything.”
Smith encourages all students considering converting to a P/F grade to consult with their academic advisors first to address whether it is the right move for them or not. Smith also noted that he admires students for their hard work during this unique semester.
“I really appreciate our students. They have been knocking themselves out. They’ve been trying to make this work,” Smith said. “It’s been very hard for them, and these are hard circumstances for all of us so I admire them for hanging in there.”