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Saint Mary’s student creates petition for pass/fail classes, gets attention of Dean

| Friday, April 3, 2020

Access to reliable internet, time zones and lack of textbooks and materials are just a few of the obstacles that students face in the transition to remote learning. 

In light of the extraordinary circumstances students are working in, Saint Mary’s College should account for this and move to a pass/fail system for all courses, junior dual-degree engineering student said Grace Kulin said. Kulin created a petition on change.org urging the College to allow for a pass/fail option for undergraduate students for the spring 2020 semester.

Kulin felt the need to create a petition after seeing a similar petition circulate around the Notre Dame student body. 

“I couldn’t just wait for Saint Mary’s to do the same, so I thought I would take action,” she said. 

In her petition, Kulin said she feels each student faces a different set of circumstances when they leave the campus, making it unfair to assume each student has the means or ability to focus on school in a way that will allow them to be successful.

“The optional pass/fail system will allow these students to focus on what matters most (which may mean something other than school, given the global pandemic) and ensure that they are not punished academically due to their necessary shift in focus,” the petition said. “This situation especially impacts low-income students who may now be working to help their families or are facing situations such as their parents being out of work, as a community we need to support these students in the best way possible — which includes implementing an optional pass/fail system.”

Another population that could potentially be negatively impacted are students who live outside of the Eastern Standard Time zone (EST), the petition said. 

“[Those] who may now have limited access to live office hours or struggle to ‘attend’ live lectures, this is especially true for international students,” the petition said. ”We need to support them with a pass/fail option for their courses. The inequality that sets in when students leave campus cannot be ignored and our grading scale should reflect that.”

Junior Gemma van Jacob signed the petition in support of extending the pass/fail grading option to include major and minor courses. 

“We’re facing a literal life or death situation; how can we be expected to follow a traditional system of grading when we are literally facing the possibility of losing our lives?” van Jacob said via text. 

With the switch to online classes mid-semester, books left at on campus, art materials, spaces for dance minors, labs for bio[lgy] majors — these are horrifically large disadvantages, she said. 

“It hurts people with disabilities and [those] who may live in adverse situations,” van Jacob said. “We can take a withdraw, but doing so means we’d have to retake courses, extending our stay at SMC when some of us cannot afford it, literally.”

Dean of student academic services Karen Chambers announced that students will be given the option to take their elective and Sophia program courses with pass/fail grading, in an email sent to undergraduate students March 19. 

Kulin said she believes that if pass/fail grading can be an option for elective and Sophia courses, then it should be an option for all courses.

As of Thursday, the petition has over 800 signatures — over half the number enrolled undergraduates at the College. 

“The College has always been supportive of all students — especially international students — who are being greatly impacted by these extraordinary circumstances,” Kulin said.

Chambers announced in an email to undergraduates Thursday that the College will not be adopting pass/fail grading for major and minor courses. 

Chambers said Thursday’s message comes in response to several messages — including a petition signed by many Saint Mary’s students — regarding grading as a result of the transition to remote courses.

In a response posted on Facebook, Kulin said she is disappointed and does not see much of a path forward in the push for the pass/fail option after this reply.

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About Mia Marroquin

Mia Marroquin is a rising senior Communication Studies major at Saint Mary’s. Currently serving as Saint Mary’s News Editor, she hails from Holland, Michigan and is an 80’s movie fanatic. Follow Mia on Twitter @_miamarroquin

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