To professors and students alike: please lower your standards
Last week, we urged the administration to grant students academic accommodations in light of the unprecedented era we are existing in. That happened the next day, when the Faculty Senate voted unanimously in favor of a series of motions intended to alleviate the weight of academics on undergraduates this semester, including one that allows students to designate all courses this semester pass/fail. We applaud the administration for taking such an important step in doing right by students as we try to navigate the rest of our semester remotely.
This week, we’re back with another ask: please go easier on us — pass/fail alone is not enough. As shown by Interim Provost Seiichi Matsuda’s earlier mandate that assignment due dates be delayed while students figured out how to transition to remote instruction, the administration has the ability to require — not ask or encourage, but require — that professors lighten their course loads.
To the professors who have already lightened students’ course loads by offering extensions on assignments, making exams open-book and telling students to put in only as much time as they can — we appreciate your efforts, and urge all professors to follow suit. While we appreciate the new optional pass/fail policy, we urge professors to be understanding, because for many students, it isn’t an option to pass/fail any classes regardless of the new policy. Many undergraduates are applying to medical schools that might still require certain courses to be taken without a pass/fail, while others might be applying to competitive graduate school programs. The pressure to perform is still on, with the added and uneven stressors of online education and worries about physical and mental health.
The reality is, with an opt-in pass-fail system, the students with the most privilege — a safe home and stability — will perform better, and the students with the least will be more likely to struggle to pass. And all students are under the duress of a pandemic threat.
Taking college-level classes remotely while a global pandemic unfolds around us is not the same thing as taking classes at Rice — and we shouldn’t treat it as such. Professors need to understand that students are not going to be able to have the same productivity or academic performance as before. An era of social isolation presents an array of obstacles students might not face on campus, from less than ideal time zones to difficult or emotionally abusive relationships at home. The presence of a worldwide crisis surfaces or exacerbates mental health issues for many of us. Even for students who have a healthy life at home and adapt well to online classes, the disruption of the college lifestyle we’re used to will undoubtedly make it more difficult to meet the standards we are typically held to.
If professors do choose to maintain the same level of difficulty in their classes as before students were sent home, we ask them to be upfront about their expectations. Rather than vaguely saying once that they are “here for students” and asking students to reach out with requests, professors should be clear and transparent about what kinds of support or accommodations they are willing to offer so that students have a full understanding of what is expected. Professors should also keep in mind the power dynamic inherent in all student-professor relationships and cannot expect students to respond fully candidly about how they’re doing or what accommodations they might desperately need.
Beyond the virtual classroom, we hope students remember that daily life during a global pandemic is unlike life as we have ever known it. It is not only okay to be overwhelmingly anxious and afraid, it is normal — insofar as anything is normal in this abnormal moment in history. If coping with at-home workout routines and new hobbies helps you, that’s great. But if you don’t feel like all of this supposed newfound “free” time is actually free at all, you should not feel guilty for needing extra time and energy just to get through the day. Right now, everybody has to put in extra effort to take care of themselves and their health, but not everybody’s effort will or should look the same. It’s okay to just do what you need to do to get by. Your productivity, creativity and general ability to function aren’t necessarily going to look the same as they did before, and that is more than okay.
More from The Rice Thresher
As the semester nears its end, it’s time to reflect on the state of the opinion section this fall amidst a near return to normalcy, and to look forward to another semester of opinions. We’ve had a multitude of opinions and editorials published on a wide range of subjects. Still, some people coming to campus for the first time or who did not engage much with our paper while we were working online last year may not be all that familiar with the opinion section. I want to reintroduce the possibilities that the section offers for all of the Rice community.
Last week, the Board of Trustees announced that Reginald DesRoches, Rice’s current provost, will be the next president of Rice University. DesRoches will be the eighth president in the history of the university, and the first person of color and foreign-born person to hold the position. We applaud the Board’s selection of DesRoches, and wish him great success in his new role. But because there are seven months left before the beginning of his tenure, we would like to pen one of our final editorials to President David Leebron and the Board of Directors. It’s time to talk about everyone’s favorite subject — one that has found itself in our news section repeatedly — the statue of one William Marsh Rice.