A petition regarding a Double-A Universal Pass Policy was posted on March 20, adding to the voices of students concerned that their education and futures will suffer due to social distancing measures.
The petition garnered 1,181 student signatures to date, and called for the University to adopt a Double-A model for the 2020 spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under this policy, students would receive a grade of an A or A- for every course, assuming that the students have not violated the academic honesty policy or failed to meet the course requirements.
The petition was written by first-year Syed Sabeet Raz Kazmi, who said he was inspired to call for the policy after reading that Harvard students were advocating for the Double-A system.
Kazmi initially considered the Universal Pass Policy, a policy that doesn’t assign letter grades to students, instead passing all students without the possibility of an “F” grade. But after consulting with various international students, he said he realized this system would negatively impact those applying to graduate school.
According to Kazmi, the main goal of this petition was to level the playing field, especially since completing the semester off-campus would present many students with difficulties including housing, finances, and mental health.
Holtz said the most challenging part of the petition process was resolving differing opinions on grading policies within the UR community. Holtz and the rest of the SA government tried to hear every student’s perspective, using Facebook and surveys to get student feedback, but also paying attention to the emails and petitions that appeared unprompted. However, with six different ideas for a new grading system — optional S/F, optional S/F with deadline extension, mandatory S/F, Double A/A-, pass/fail, and A or E — it was “a struggle trying to compile everyone’s feedback and what they wanted to see with the grading policy,” said Holtz.
On March 21, UR sent out an email regarding the University’s implementation of the Satisfactory/Fail (S/F) system. With this system, students have the option to receive either an S/F or a letter grade. If a letter grade is chosen, a student cannot switch to an S/F grade for that course after submitting the form. Students can use all courses to satisfy their major, minor, cluster, or primary writing requirements, regardless of whether they receive an S/F or a letter grade. More information can be found here.
The decision the University settled on was the last thing Kazmi expected, he said. “When they did come out with the optional pass/fail,” he said, “the frustration came from the point that it would still lead to a lot of discrimination, that it wouldn’t equally level the playing field.”
On March 30, the University made available to students a form to sign up for either S/F or letter grades and shared it with students. Holtz said this decision was made to “[give] students leeway with being in different learning environments.” The school first extended the form’s due date from April 3 to April 10 after students requested more time to decide what grading system they wanted.
A recent SA petition resulted in UR extending the deadline further to April 29.
The goal of this petition, said S/F extension petition writer senior Shagun Bose, was to give students flexibility and to help them “make the most informed decisions possible.”
As a Computer Science peer advisor, Bose said she has heard concerns from many students about the impact of the new grading system on their academics, graduate school applications, and visa applications.
“Every student has a unique position, a unique problem,” Bose said. “The University really needs to uphold the spirit of equity, allowing students to think about their unique situations and receive enough advice, enough information to actually make a decision where one, they understand the consequences, and two, they have information about what these consequences even are.”
Correction (4/16/2020): An earlier version of this article contained a typo where “Kazmi” was spelled as “Kamiz.”