Pitt implements ‘compromise’ of two grading policy changes amid pandemic

By Rebecca Johnson, News Editor

Pitt announced two changes to its grading policies amid the COVID-19 pandemic in a Wednesday evening email to students. Student leaders are calling the move a “compromise” after students pushed for the same policies introduced in the spring semester to compensate for an academic environment which has continued to prove challenging for many this fall.

At the bottom of all students’ transcripts — regardless of what grade they earned — Pitt will place a notation that will say “Grades and credits earned were impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 global public health crisis.”

Joe McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies, and Amanda Godley, vice provost for graduate studies, said this notation will tell future employers or academic institutions that a “slight disruption in performance is only natural given the situation.”

These policy changes are different from the spring semester, when students could convert any course from a letter-grade basis to a satisfactory/no credit basis at the end of the semester. 

More than 3,000 people signed a petition started two weeks ago urging Pitt to implement the S/NC policy from the spring. The petition said this grading policy will more fairly reflect students’ potential and abilities, given the unprecedented circumstances of this year.

Students will also have the option to petition their dean or campus president by Feb. 3, 2021 to withdraw from courses and obtain a W grade where their “performance disruption was more severe” from the coronavirus pandemic.

A W grade doesn’t affect a student’s GPA or tuition and fee obligations, though it may impact a student’s financial aid, satisfactory academic progress and athletic eligibility.

McCarthy and Godley said in the email that the Feb. 3 deadline will give students a chance to discuss grading options from the fall semester with their academic advisers and plan for the spring. 

“These meetings with an adviser will be required, not only to exercise the withdrawal option, but also because we want to be sure that all students have the opportunity to share individual experiences,” the email said. “This will allow us to improve on how we support you both now and during this ongoing crisis.”

Eric Macadangdang, the president of Student Government Board, said the board met with McCarthy and Provost Ann Cudd, his boss and the chief for academics at Pitt, multiple times over the last week and a half to discuss potential grading policy changes. He said SGB entered the talks thinking it was in the “best interest of students” to implement the same S/NC grading policy as last spring. But he said Pitt administrators had several concerns with the proposal, such as the difference between the spring and fall semesters with the introduction of [email protected] and that some post graduate programs have reverted back to traditional admissions.

Macadangdang said while the two policy changes weren’t what he personally thought were the best ways to aid students, he described them as a “compromise” that will help many.

“I do truly think those two things can help a lot of students who are one facing minor or small issues with the changes that they’ve had to go through this semester,” Macadandang said. “Or in extreme circumstances, students who are facing unique, very difficult circumstances where their grades are totally not reflective of their work and they would want to retake it and not be negatively affected through their GPA.”

Macadangdang also said he was pleased that administrators sent out an email to students communicating their decision before Thanksgiving. 

“I know a key issue that’s happened since April with communicating new operations and new policies and practices is that sometimes students don’t uniformly receive that information,” Macadangdang said. “So a student-wide email I thought was appropriate.” 

Macadangdang added that he encourages all students to reach out to their advisers or associate deans with any questions or concerns they have about their grades.

“I encourage anyone who thinks that their semester was abnormally affected because of the pandemic, and because of the University’s operations and how we delivered our courses to approach their advisers,” Macadangdang said. “I think by doing that we can roughly reach the level of flexibility that many schools, advisers, students all came to last semester.”