SGB gives updates on pass/fail grades, mandatory masks for fall semester

Student Government Board held a virtual Town Hall on Thursday.

Student Government Board held a virtual Town Hall on Thursday.

By Rebecca Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

Eric Macadangdang, Student Government Board president, said at a Thursday afternoon town hall that Pitt would not be allowing students to convert courses from a letter grade to satisfactory/no credit at the end of the fall semester. Macadangdang sits on a resiliency steering committee, which is planning reopening for the fall semester.

“Right now, the pass/fail option will still be available at the typical period of time at the beginning of the semester but it will not be available throughout the entire semester,” Macadangdang, a rising senior, said. “The chief rationale as to why we switched to pass/fail last semester was because no one entered the semester thinking they would have to be taking a full online course load.”

University spokesperson Kevin Zwick confirmed that the University is not planning to shift its normal grading policies, but will “monitor throughout the semester and adjust if needed.” 

Pitt gave students the option to take classes on a satisfactory/no credit basis during the spring semester following the abrupt move to online classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a petition that gathered thousands of signatures. While S/NC courses have long been a grade scale offered at Pitt, students normally only have until the end of the add/drop period to choose this option.

Grading policies were one topic related to the upcoming fall semester discussed at SGB’s community check-in hosted via Zoom. The board also fielded questions about guidance for student organizations, University communication to students, mask-wearing enforcement and future SGB operations.

Macadangdang also announced that the University has updated its Student Code of Conduct to issue sanctions to students who refuse to wear masks. For example, Macadangdang said if a student enters a classroom without a mask and refuses to put one on, they could receive a code of conduct sanction.

“If you are taking the privilege to participate in in-person instruction, and you completely disregard the health and well-being of others, there will be negative consequences,” Macadangdang said.

Zwick said the University is making changes to the Student Code of Conduct and evaluating other processes so there are consequences for people who break the rules by not wearing masks.

“We always want to educate people first, but we will not tolerate unsafe behavior,” Zwick said.

Macadandang said SGB will focus on creating an environment of “positive peer pressure” for students to wear masks and abide by other public health guidelines by creating a community compact outlining standards of behavior.

He also said guidelines for student organizations and activities regarding room capacity, Residence Life activities that are permitted, visitor policies for events and travel standards for conferences and competitions should be released within the next week.

“It’s important for student organizations to know what limitations and guidelines they’re expected to adhere to in this COVID environment,” Macadangdang said.

With this guidance, Macadangdang said Pitt would also soon be releasing more information relating to shared public spaces, including libraries. He did say that many will be closed off or significantly de-densified and that they will be cleaned often.

“We will not see the ground floor of Hillman like we’ve typically seen the ground floor of Hillman,” Macadangdang said.

Zwick said these announcements are “forthcoming,” but didn’t elaborate on a specific timetable or exactly what information would be included in them. 

At the meeting, SGB members criticized what they view as a lack of clear communication between Pitt administrators and students about the fall semester. Macadangdang said he is “frustrated” by a lack of direct messaging about students’ options with Flex@Pitt for the fall, specifically the option to take classes completely online.

Flex@Pitt and the University’s three-tiered reopening system will allow students to attend class “in person, remotely, synchronously or asynchronously.” In-person instruction would only be allowed if Allegheny County remains in the green phase of reopening, per state rules, and the University itself moves to its green-equivalent reopening status. Since students will be able to access classes remotely, officials said students will not be required to return to campus.

“With the messages from the Chancellor and the Provost, it seems like they’ve sprinkled in that detail that students could remain online but it has not been a stand-alone message,” Macadangdang said. “It has not been directed effectively to students, and hopefully they’ll make that more direct in the coming weeks.”

Macadangdang said he has discussed this concern with the resiliency steering committee, and they are now working on providing direct language to students. He said they are also discussing how students choose online, in-person or hybrid classes and that there should be more concrete information within the next week.

Kathryn Fleisher, a rising senior and SGB board member, questioned how she and other students could comply with recent shelter-in-place guidelines issued by Pitt without more guidance. The University is requiring all students, including those who live off campus, to complete a 14-day shelter-in-place period before attending in-person classes. University spokesperson Kevin Zwick said Pitt will not track whether or not students have completed the requirement, though.

“More clear-cut information about enforcement, or whether going to the grocery store counts [is needed],” Fleisher said. “It’s impossible to answer that question fully until we have answers about how this system will work.”

Steve Anderson, the associate dean of students and director of the Office of Residence Life, said more guidance about the shelter-in-place requirement should be coming soon.

“We’re continuing to define it within the next week or so,” Anderson said. “I’ve been talking with a student with an internship and ways we could make it work. We will continue to navigate this space.”