SVSU students are signing a petition asking administrators to allow students to elect whether they want their courses for the semester to be pass/fail or graded.
Pass/fail grading, opposed to receiving a letter grade, does not affect a student’s overall GPA. While they would receive credit for the courses taken, they would not receive a letter grade at the end of the semester. Some SVSU classes, such as internships or other capstones, are pass/fail classes.
Social work junior Jordan Schantz started the petition March 18 and posted it on the popular SVSU Facebook page “SVSU WE’RE BOSS,” where many students shared and commented on it. Most student comments supported the petition, with students citing concerns over having to quickly adapt to online courses.
Schantz created the petition after the rapid spread of COVID-19 pushed classes to online-only through finals week. Before March 16, SVSU had only elected to go online-only through April 17. The situation changed once the cases in Michigan reached 80 (as of March 18), and the state saw its first confirmed death caused by the virus. Students from other universities have created similar petitions.
“SVSU should permit students to opt into or out of going pass/fail because it gives students the ability to choose whatever is best for their own academic journey rather than have someone else decide for them,” Schantz said. “Some students might seriously struggle to keep their GPA up now that classes are online, which might cause a lot of worry about their future education goals or scholarships. I think allowing this option would help relieve students of some of the extra stress that this change has undoubtedly caused.”
Schantz said she found herself struggling to adapt to the lack of structure online-only classes caused. Because of how hard the adjustment has been, she was unable to finish an assignment on time.
After talking with Alexis Juraez, the social work program’s representative to the National Association of Social Workers Michigan Board of Directors, Schantz felt encouraged to start the petition.
“I didn’t think I had enough influence to be a good advocate for the students who are worried about our current situation,” Schantz said. “Then I saw that a lot of other universities were receiving other petitions; Alexis and some of my friends told me that it was a good idea; and I saw a post on (SVSU WE’RE BOSS) by a student named Ramon Hernández also showing support for pass/fail. So, I decided that I would make the petition to have a convenient spot to gather support and hopefully push administration to make that change.”
Hernández, a neuroscience junior, said he initially posted to SVSU WE’RE BOSS because he was curious to learn how his peers felt about the issue.
“Opting in and out of a pass or fail system is the only option graduate and undergraduate students would be happy with,” he said. “It is right to give students the option because they are paying into this institution for their proper education.”
Hernández said he also understood why some students on SVSU WE’RE BOSS expressed concerns about SVSU forcing all students to go pass/fail for the semester.
“You work so hard for this A and then it gets switched to a P,” he said. “I would get upset because seeing your hard work gives you a sense of accomplishment. Then, we have equal students on the opposite spectrum of being in favor of a Pass/ Fail system. They have equally worked hard, but online classes are not their learning style or they simply don’t have the access as many do. It can save your grade but diminishes the effort you put in.”
As such, Hernández, like Schantz, believed allowing students to chose between pass/fail or graded would be the best option.
Since COVID-19 has caused unprecedented challenges for both the university and its students, Schantz also said this semester deserves to be handled differently than the average semester. For her, that includes allowing students to elect whether to take their courses pass/fail.
“We are all trying to figure this out together and, at the end of the day, this is still administration’s decision,” she said, “but I think optional pass/fail is the right decision. This would help alleviate stress on students, protect their GPAs and give them back some control over their education. SVSU is already doing a lot to make this transition as smooth as possible and be there for students. I think this is just one more thing that they can do to help out.”
Alexandria Miller, a public administration graduate student, is one of many students who voiced support for Schantz’s petition.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” she said, “but giving students the choice to continue to work toward a standard letter grade and improve their GPA or to opt into a pass/fail system to potentially save their GPA from dropping is a logical choice. We have students at SVSU with a wide range of needs and abilities, and we should work to provide them an opportunity to make whatever decision they need that will best serve their future goals.”
No one who opposed the petition wanted to speak to The Vanguard. However, general concerns mentioned on SVSU WE’RE BOSS involved pass/fail grading undermining the importance of the GPA and letter grade systems. Another common concern was pass/fail being unfair to high-achieving students, since peers who received a lower grade would pass the course without it affecting their GPA the same way it would a higher-achieving student.
Schantz said she plans on sending the petition to SVSU administration.
“I know that they are already considering it,” she said, “but maybe seeing the number of students who support the change will help them make their decision.”
As of this publication, there are over 200 signatures. Students can read the full petition here.