Editorial: Pitt, give students a pass/fail option


Screenshot via change.org

A petition urging the Pitt administration to modify the pass/fail grading policy for the spring semester in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has gathered thousands of signatures since its creation two days ago.

Under normal circumstances, Pitt gives students until the fourth week of each semester to decide if they want to take a class as S/NC — receiving just a passing or failing grade rather than a letter grade. But these aren’t normal circumstances. 

A petition with thousands of signatures is circulating amongst Pitt students right now, requesting that the University allows students to opt for the pass/fail option — or S/NC — at any point for the remainder of the semester. Carnegie Mellon announced a few days ago that it would be offering this option to students.

Right now, we’re facing a worldwide pandemic, and in these circumstances, students should have the space to take care of themselves and do their school work without agonizing about their grades — especially with the abrupt shift to online classes.

The petition requests that, while students can opt to receive letter grades for the semester, they have seven days after receiving their final letter grade to change to a pass/fail grade. A pass fail grade does not affect the student’s GPA the way a letter grade would. Instead, pass/fail just offers credit toward graduation.

The petition also requests that there be no limit on the number of courses that can be adjusted to pass/fail grading. Some majors have no limits on the number of pass/fail credits than can be put toward the major, but some of the most common majors at Pitt — like psychology and biology — do have limits. The petition requests that under these circumstances, pass/fail grades count toward degree requirements.

This is a time of stress and uncertainty, and one of the points the petition makes is that students are losing resources they often rely on to help them perform in school.

“With the suspension of in-person activities, usual available stress-coping mechanisms like the Stress Free Zone, student organizations and other campus programming have become unavailable to students,” the petition says. “Adding to any stress from the personal challenges that students may be facing, many academic resources are no longer easily accessible.”

Nobody should be concerned about Pitt being too easy or making too many exceptions with pass/fail. The University can still be a place of academic excellence and at the same time, show up for and listen to their students. Besides, Carnegie Mellon, as of 2020, has been ranked the 25th best school in the nation. If a university like CMU can make the exception, then it sets a good precedent for Pitt — our school certainly can, too.


We stand by the students requesting the pass/fail option. Moving online is going to be messy, no matter how hard professors try. There are going to be technical glitches and miscommunications that happen due to the lack of face-to-face communication. Many students just learn and focus better in person rather than online. 

The COVID-19 outbreak wasn’t a choice on anyone’s part. We all have to adapt, and Pitt should consider adapting its grading policy for this semester

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