On March 1, the University Senate’s Scholastic Standards Committee voted to update syllabi and grading policy. Using a form due April 28, students may now elect to designate spring 2021 courses as “No Record Covid” as an alternative to a Withdrawal (W). According to Provost and Academic Affairs VP Carl Lejeuz, the new transcript designation will “provide students who withdraw from courses an option to note that the W grade was received during the height of the COVID pandemic.”
We aren’t exactly sure about the advantages this policy confers to students. Sure, now graduate programs and employers — whom our transcripts concern — will understand that the University of Connecticut empathizes with students who must withdraw from courses due to the many stresses of COVID-19. But did UConn previously not understand that COVID-19 had detrimental effects on academics and quality of life for students? If we remember correctly, this is the reason they chose to extend pass-fail deadlines last semester and about one year ago.
Pass/fail adaptation is an example of a policy which confers real, material aid to students during a time of great need and struggle. The ability to designate more courses pass/fail allows students to decide independently, according to each of their unique circumstances, if they believe it makes sense to continue learning in a given course. While there are certainly drawbacks to each student’s use of pass/fail, these can be mitigated if the effects of such a choice are well-communicated and they don’t approach the drawbacks of withdrawing from a course entirely, with or without “NRC”.
Designating a course as pass/fail signals to graduate schools and employers that the student may have received a low passing grade. However, is this worse than a student withdrawing from a course entirely? A withdrawal on one’s transcript necessarily tells future institutions that the student could not complete their course and the student receives no credit for the course, often meaning they need to retake it later. At the very least, students deserve to have the choice between all available options during the pandemic when they are being evaluated under entirely abnormal and abysmal academic circumstances.
We’ve been over the obvious, many times. A pandemic so deadly as COVID-19 only comes along approximately once every century. More than half of one billion people around the world have been infected, and two and a half million have died. For many students this time has been socially and intellectually depressing and taxing given our unique living and learning environments. But more importantly, the financial repercussions of COVID-19 and loss of loved ones has made this academic year a highly traumatic and frightening time, particularly for the most marginalized populations at UConn.
These circumstances are simply not reflected within the option for us to tell employers or graduate schools, “Hey, just so you know, I withdrew from this course during the COVID-19 pandemic.” They can already read the dates on our transcript as well as anyone else.
It’s clear that many universities are concerned with accreditation at this time, leading them to maintain status-quo grading policy. UConn administrators and the University Senate should push against this tendency and focus more on implementing flexible and respectful academic policies, such as a more accessible pass/fail, in the tail-end of one of the worst crises many students have ever known.