A pass/fail grading system is the best thing for students

Despite the online backlash, the University made the right call

If you attend the University of Alberta, there are a few things you’ve probably seen in the past two weeks: the fact that all classes have been moved online, and that the grading system has been changed.

If you’re unaware, the University of Alberta has decided that, in light of the global isolation measures, grading will be done on a pass/fail basis for Winter 2020. Students will receive a CR (pass, or credit), NC (fail, or no credit), or an IN (incomplete, or not enough information) for each Winter class on their transcripts. Some students are understandably angry about this, as it gives every pass equal value. Someone who worked hard and got an A+ would pass with the same value (or lack thereof, as the mark doesn’t contribute to your overall GPA) as someone who got a D.

For the move to online classes, most students were ecstatic. It meant no coming to campus, no potentially transmitting the virus, and — let’s be honest — classes would be easier to skip. However, the grade change hasn’t generated the same hype for most people. In fact, there’s a petition circulating with over 10 thousand signatures asking the university to make the pass/fail system optional for students.

Some students are concerned not because of the work they put in, but because this has the potential to affect professional program and graduate school applications.

This concern is a valid one, but in my eyes, it’s the exception to the rule. The University of Alberta has been incredibly swift to respond to concerns about the transmission of COVID-19, and grading students on a normal scale is unreasonable at this time. Contrary to the current line of thinking, the university is doing this to benefit students, not harm them.

If students are really concerned, they can also ask for an assessment letter from their professor. Graduate schools, employers, and other professors can look at this if they would like more information on specific grades. But that probably wont be necessary — most places will likely understand the grade gap, given that we are currently experiencing a worldwide pandemic.

After the announcement of the closure of all North Campus buildings and the short-notice eviction of campus residents, it’s easier to see why the U of A is responding in this way. Without access to regular libraries, study spaces, and campus resources, how can most students possibly hope to achieve the kind of grade they would have previously?

In addition to this, many professors were woefully unprepared to move their instruction online. Some courses may not have even had coursework submitted yet, and students and professors alike are left scrambling to figure something out in the wake of in-person final exam cancellations. Labs and practicums, a large component of many classes, also had to be cancelled entirely.

Many people are comparing the University of Alberta’s response to the University of Toronto’s, but this isn’t really fair. According to the U of A registrar, the U of T has had a response system in place for years, while we had to figure ours out in the moment. Ignoring the fact that the U of A probably should’ve had some planning for a situation like this, it’s amazing that they were able to respond as fast as they did at all.

The university is doing us a favour by making classes pass/fail, and all the online vitriol isn’t helping people who have serious concerns beyond academics. Should students applying to graduate programs be able to receive an exemption from this policy and have a letter grade assigned to their work? Maybe, but the discourse online is mostly students saying they “deserve” their hard-earned grades, which is true, but doesn’t consider others. Doesn’t a person with less resources and time during a pandemic also deserve a chance? Someone who may have lost their job, their home in residence? And if some people are choosing to display their real GPA and some are not, other programs and schools might raise a brow at those who choose not to.

There has been massive backlash against the university for the decision to make classes pass/fail this semester, but I still believe they did the right thing. It will have no bearing on our final GPA, and it will benefit more people than it will hurt. We need to think not only of ourselves in this time, but of people who have not had the luxury to carry on with their lives as usual in the face of a global pandemic. We’re stronger together, and one semester of invisible GPA will not be the be-all, end-all for most students.

Payton Ferguson

Payton Ferguson is a English major by day, 2019-20 Opinion Editor for The Gateway by night (and also day). She enjoys long walks to the fridge, writing until her wrists ache, and bombarding social media with pictures of her chihuahuas.

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