Half-baked pass/fail policies aren’t good enough

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UConn should follow a pass/fail approach that provides for the unevenness of the college experience and encourages students to proceed without concern on their way to graduation. Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown all manner of wrenches into students’ plans. Online learning is a tedious and often unrewarding experience, full of silent breakout rooms, poor connections, accidentally unmuted microphones, and overambitious professors. From a distance, the idea of learning online, from the comfort of your bed or couch, seems relatively pleasant and easygoing, but we all know it is actually quite difficult. Outside of the universal online class grind, there is a serious unevenness to the college experience during COVID-19. While during normal times, there were certainly advantages conferred to some students due to wealth and privilege — such as having more free time due to not needing an on-campus job — the college experience was more equal. Now, during COVID-19, students can face any number of serious challenges at home, ranging from having to look after their siblings and working long hours to support their families, to literally catching COVID-19 or dealing with a sick family member.  

This fundamental unevenness was what pushed universities across the country, including UConn, to adopt flexible pass/fail policies in the Spring semester. This semester, however, the policies have not been as kind — despite the COVID-19 virus setting new records every day in the US and Connecticut. And despite having half a semester to warm up to online classes, it seems that students are having an even harder time coping mentally this semester. Social isolation, stress, increased alienation from the routine of day-to-day college life and so on have made it harder than ever on students. 

Unlike last semester, the deadline to register a class for pass/fail is November 20th, which is before finals, and therefore before students will know their grades. Additionally, and crucially, pass/fail is only applicable to courses which aren’t essential for graduation or major requirement. While last semester had some restrictions, overall much more flexibility was preserved. 

While we respect and appreciate the university’s efforts to give students an opportunity to pass/fail their courses, these rules render the effort somewhat toothless. UConn should embrace a pass/fail policy that accounts for the unevenness of the college experience at this moment and which allows students to continue on their paths to graduation without worry. Considering the myriad of tradeoffs that students have to consider when they pass/fail a course — most of them bad, such as graduate school applications or career prospects — it would make sense to embrace some form of a universal policy, rather than tiptoeing around the real issue. 

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