Why students’ pass/fail wishes weren’t granted this fall

For University leaders, it came down to the data.

With the semester drawing to a close, UA students are reflecting on how this fall has challenged them. 

One thing that has been especially difficult for some students to adjust to was online and hybrid courses. Luka Kaplarevic, a UA senior majoring in operations management, created a petition on ipetitions.com for students who struggled to adapt to virtual learning.

Created on Sept. 30, the statement for the petition reads, “We are calling for the reinstatement of the Pass/Fail policy this semester due to extreme exposure of screen time [a]ffecting student health and learning experience.”

The proposal was inspired by a similar response the Capstone passed in spring 2020, which allowed students to choose whether they wanted to be graded on a letter scale. Alongside signing, many students left comments on the petition stating the various reasons that learning has been challenging during the fall. 


Korey Abercrombie, a senior majoring in computer science, detailed his experience with doing classes online and facing numerous online errors while taking tests. 

“Doing classes from home has restricted me as well as many other students to learn the material to the best of our ability,” Abercrombie said. “I have taken two tests this semester in two different classes that I could not make the best score I could possibly make, due to some technological error during the test. One test didn’t provide the correct calculator to compute problems, and the other test did not save my answers after input which resulted in a complete zero until I had to retake the test while on my lunch break from my internship.”

Some argued that the atmosphere surrounding COVID-19 made it difficult to focus on their studies. The amount of school stress combined with anxiety about the state of the world was also negatively impacting their mental health. 

“This semester has been absolutely awful,” said Hannah Briner, a junior majoring in environmental science. “My grades are doing fine, but mental health is on zero and I know too many others have had an even harder time with their classes.”

Anna Snyder, a senior majoring in political science and history, said this has been an “odd” semester and the option would provide students with needed academic support. 

“The University’s lack of response and communication about this is more of an issue in my opinion, and it sort of reinforces the idea that all of the planning UA has done is about the almighty dollar,” Snyder said. “We heard a lot about plans to return and get a ton of emails about football plans, but academic matters like this are just being swept under the rug.”

By the end of October, the petition garnered over 4,000 signatures, but administrators nixed a pass/fail option for the fall. The University instead chose to extend the drop deadline to Nov. 11 so students could have more time to drop courses with a ‘W.’ 


These complaints didn’t go unheard. They caught the attention of UA officials, as well as student and faculty leaders.

The Student Government Association (SGA) approved a resolution in October for the UA Faculty Senate to implement pass/fail during the fall semester. 

SGA press secretary Jackson Fuentes said the resolution was put forward because they “saw a concern from the student body regarding classes this semester.” Fuentes said while the pass/fail option was not implemented, the SGA was able to get the withdrawal deadline extended to Nov. 11.

“We’re really happy that we were able to extend that deadline to drop with a W [because] that did help our student body,” he said. 

A Faculty Senate meeting was held on Oct. 20 to vote on the decision to instate pass/fail for the current semester. An overwhelming vote of over 90 percent was cast to not move forward with the decision.

John Vincent, a chemistry professor and a member of the academic affairs board, said the main argument for voting against pass/fail came down to the numbers.

According to Vincent, the midterm grade average as well as the amount of Bs, Ds, Fs, and withdrawals were virtually the same in fall 2020 compared to previous fall semesters. The only notable differences documented were that As went up and Cs went slightly down.

Vincent said while the Senate members were aware of the students’ complaints and the online petition, those opinions alone could not hold their own against the hard evidence in data presented. He also mentioned there was much more of a discussion dedicated to changing the withdrawal date than the pass/fail option. 

“There didn’t seem to be an issue on average with student grades and the format of classes this tall were announced in advance, unlike last spring when we changed in the middle,” Vincent said. “It was just a quick and easy decision in the spring, and, again, in the fall the faculty, just looking at evidence, didn’t see the need.”