Thousands sign petition urging S/NC grading option at the end of the semester.

By Betul Tuncer, For The Pitt News

A petition urging Pitt to adopt a more lenient grading policy amid the COVID-19 pandemic has gathered nearly 2,600 signatures since it was created a week ago.

The petition asks Pitt to allow students to convert any course from a letter-grade basis to a satisfactory/no credit basis at the conclusion of the semester. The petition says this grading policy will more fairly reflect students’ potential and abilities, given the unprecedented circumstances of this year. This is the same policy Pitt implemented at the end of the spring semester following the University’s shift to online learning and another student petition that gathered thousands of signatures.

“It is unfair to put the academic result that is made under chaos into something that will affect one’s entire career and life,” the petition said.

University spokesperson Kevin Zwick didn’t directly respond to questions about whether Pitt will allow S/NC grading at the end of the semester. He said Pitt is monitoring the “national picture” to make the best decisions for students.

“During this past spring term, we experienced an emergency pivot situation,” Zwick said. “By contrast, we have been in Flex@Pitt throughout this semester and will be next semester as well.”

Other colleges around the country have adopted more relaxed grading this semester, such as University of Virginia and Ohio State University. UVA is allowing students to take classes for credit or no credit instead of letter grades, and Ohio State adopted a pass/fail system for general education courses and within select majors. One of the petition’s arguments is that because other schools changed their grading policies, Pitt students might be put at a disadvantage when comparing GPAs.

Eric Macadangdang, president of Student Government Board, said SGB has continuously pushed the University to make decisions that help students this semester. He said while SGB hasn’t heard of any clear decision from University administration yet about the S/NC grading policy, he hopes they address student concerns soon.

“We are working to make sure that these students’ concerns are heard and acknowledged by administration and student leaders,” Macadangdang, a senior urban studies and history and philosophy of science dual major, said. “And that we are talking about possible routes we can take to mitigate against some of these concerns and issues that students are facing.”

Macadangdang said while the fall semester is much different from the spring in that students went into the semester expecting to be online, it was still challenging for many students.

“The rationale that went into this fall semester was that students were to come into the semester with a little bit more knowledge as to what was going to be expected,” Macadangdang said. “But I do hear the concerns from students, especially with the petition and with anecdotal evidence I’ve heard from many students that they are having issues keeping up academically with their coursework and having grades that reflect the unique circumstances.”

Abigail Mann, a sophomore undecided student, is one of many students who signed the petition. She said because of the pandemic, numerous social issues and overall poor student mental health, grades and the fear of losing scholarships shouldn’t be a concern for students this semester.

“During a pandemic, our experience with academia has completely changed and resulted in many students being overwhelmed, overworked, anxious and scared,” Mann said. “The last thing we need as students right now is to be worried about whether our classes will negatively affect our GPAs and consequently affect the state of our scholarships.”

Mann said some students would benefit and feel more at ease if Pitt were to implement the S/NC policy at the end of the fall semester.

“With the S/NC way of grading, many people, not all, will experience some sense of peace from this change.” Mann said. “We have more work and more stress because of a pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. So, if this is one way we can help ease the student body, then we should take the opportunity and any other ones while we’re at it.”

Other students, such as Adam Aukamp, a sophomore electrical engineering major, expressed concerns over the fairness of grading across universities this semester. Aukamp — who also signed the petition — said students who were able to attend in-person STEM labs were able to learn more than those who were strictly online. He said the S/NC option would make grading more fair across Pitt.

“In my major, there is a large disparity between those who are able to attend labs in person and those who cannot,” Aukamp said. “The ability to use the lab equipment and get assistance from a TA in person makes it much easier to do well, leaving those who cannot attend behind.”

Aukamp also said he is concerned that because the majority of classes were online, cheating was easier. He said the S/NC grading policy would prevent students who cheated from having an unfair advantage.

“I have heard about people getting away with cheating due to exams being online,” Aukamp said. “I think a S/NC option would only be fair to those putting in the work and doing worse than peers who might be cheating.”

Mann said she believes the University should do whatever it can to help students thrive — academically, mentally and physically — during these challenging times.

“While we, as students, are emerging adults, we are still kids who are trying to get ready for our futures. We shouldn’t be worried about the repercussions of what happens right now when we’re all just trying to get by,” Mann said. “Pitt should do whatever it can to make sure their students are coping, are healthy and are staying safe.”