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Students petition for a pass/fail semester due to COVID-19 disruption

A screenshot of the pass/fail petition on Change.org.

By Savannah Kuchar     3/18/20 11:32am

Yesterday, a petition created by Kendall Vining requested that administration give students the option to pass/fail their classes this semester, in light of all the recent changes on campus due to COVID-19. Vining, Student Association internal vice president, wrote and posted the petition, and at the time of publication it had 2,473 signatures and comments in support from students and parents.

Yesterday, the Faculty Senate held an emergency meeting where they added three items to their March 25 Senate, including a proposal to allow students to designate any Spring 2020 classes as pass/fail.

Vining said she believes students should have the option of making their classes pass/fail because of all the difficulties they now face with the shift to online classes, as well as having to move off campus. 

“Students chose Rice for unique reasons, and those decisions all were influenced by Rice’s intimate in-person teaching methods,” Vining wrote in the petition description. “Hence, creating an opt-in pass/fail option will provide the much needed relief to students in this unexpected turn in the semester.” 

Vining said this effort also comes after many other universities have already implemented similar changes. Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced in an email to students that it would use a Pass/No Record policy. Northwestern University decided to make all final examinations optional and to give students the choice to pass/fail any of their classes. Similar petitions have also been created by students at other universities like Princeton and Duke.

According to the speaker of the Faculty Senate, Christopher Johns-Krull, the Faculty Senate has already been working with the administration to consider these changes.

“The Faculty Senate executive committee has approved a package of academic relief measures as a result of what has happened this spring,” Johns-Krull said. “It will go to the full Senate next week for final approval.”

These measures include the ability for undergraduate students to take “any or all courses pass/fail.” Like current pass/fail classes, the pass/fail designation on Spring 2020 classes could be uncovered at a later date and replaced with the letter grade earned, according to the Faculty Senate agenda. The proposed measures would need to pass at the March 25 Faculty Senate in order to be implemented.

“Courses designated Pass/Fail in the Spring 2020 semester will not count against the normal allocation of Pass/Fail courses allotted to undergraduate students,“ the agenda reads. “Additionally, an adjustment and provision will be made ... to allow Spring 2020 courses with a grade of ‘P’ to be eligible towards an undergraduate student’s major, minor or certificate’s course requirements.”

Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman said that administration is trying to make the best decision for the student body.

“We recognize the serious and disruptive nature of what is happening, and the accommodations we will provide are designed to assist our students during this tumultuous time,” Gorman said.

According to Vining, the original idea for this petition came from another student who reached out to the SA.

“I was really excited to hear about this and spent most of the day today drafting the petition,” Vining, a Martel College sophomore, said. “The current [SA] [executive] team and [the former SA president] Grace Wickerson helped to edit the draft and gave me data to use before I finally published it.”

Hannah Meeks, a Hanszen College junior, wrote in her petition comment that the lack of availability of on-campus resources will affect students’ ability to learn.

“Many students have lost access to vital resources including but not limited to: the Student Success Initiatives office, the Peer Academic Advisors, Academic Fellows, in-person office hours, Fondren library, teaching assistant sessions and more,” Meeks wrote. “This will have a detrimental impact on our ability to perform to our fullest potential, and the grading policy for this semester should reflect that.”

Vining said she was surprised by the attention and response that the petition has received.

“I didn’t expect this petition to blow up the way it did but I’m glad it did,” Vining said.

[3/18/2020 1:39 p.m.] This article has been updated with additional information from the Faculty Senate.

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