Thousands sign petition urging change to Pitt pass/fail policy


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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.

By Sarah Berg, Staff Writer

A petition urging the Pitt administration to modify the pass/fail grading policy for the spring semester in the wake of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic has gathered thousands of signatures since its creation two days ago.

The petition, inspired by a successful effort at Carnegie Mellon University, requested a week-long window for students to change their grade in a course to satisfactory/no-credit after receiving final grades.

Under current University policy, students needed to change a course to S/NC status by Jan. 31. 

But students said due to the pandemic’s unprecedented circumstances and switch to online distance learning, making this policy change would reduce the stress and worry that students may feel about their grades for this semester.

Zechariah Brown, the president of Student Government Board, brought up the petition at Thursday afternoon’s Senate Council, and asked if Pitt was considering making the petition’s requested changes.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in response that the petition was not a major factor in the University administration’s decision on this matter.

“Of all the types of input we’re getting in handling this crisis, at the present time, the number of signatories on a petition is not very high on the list,” Gallagher said. “I think it’s enough for the SGB members to share ideas and concerns with us, but there’s not a lot of additional weight.”

Provost Ann Cudd indicated that the University has already made a decision about the S/NC policy and is working on communicating it to the community.

“Petitions are not really on our radar,” Cudd said.

University spokesperson Kevin Zwick declined to provide additional details on the University’s decision.

Whether or not the petition will have impacted the University’s decision, some members of the community feel strongly about what should be done with the S/NC policy, including both those who signed the petition and those who did not.

Graduate students Mariah Callas and Kayley Renz saw the petition on Facebook and signed it, knowing that it might not affect them but that it could still help their fellow students.

“As a grad student, most of what is happening is going to be dictated by our department,” Callas, a physical therapy graduate student, said. “I didn’t sign it as in I think this should be implemented for the physical therapy school … I did it more as putting myself in the shoes of people who this may be a real challenge for, and [how] the opportunity of creating pass/fail could alleviate some problems.”

Renz, an occupational therapy graduate student, also felt that her program was flexible but that students in other areas might have a harder time, like those whose learning style or area of study may not be compatible with online learning.

“There’s certain things that you can’t just learn through a Zoom call,” Renz said. “By having a pass/fail, it’s more of a buffer for those who can’t learn through a Zoom call.”

Senior psychology major Andrew Grimes also saw the petition on Facebook, but does not think the policy change would be helpful.

“I do not support it at all and don’t think the school should, because many people are applying to grad school, including me, and [lots of] admissions offices want to see actual transcripts of grades and how our GPA is,” Grimes said.

Grimes acknowledged that there may be challenges with grading, including the fact that many students are not likely to abide by closed-book testing rules, but said professors should try to go by the usual grading rules.

Callas and Renz supported their decision with other reasons why students could be aided by a modified policy, including an increased need for students to support their families through work or childcare, mental stressors caused by the pandemic, lack of access to tutoring and new distractions caused by the change in learning environment.

“If allowing a pass/fail option creates space for students to feel less stressed and they can better serve those impacted, that should absolutely be implemented right now,” Callas said.

Rebecca Johnson contributed reporting.