Students study in the Thompson reading room

The University Senate Council on Enrollment and Student Progress is discussing the potential implementation of a pass/no pass system for the fall semester. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Former Managing Editor for Multimedia

Pass/no pass options might extend into the academic year, but the amount of options to be offered is currently up for debate. 

The University Senate Council on Enrollment and Student Progress is discussing the potential implementation of a pass/no pass system for the fall semester, but disagreements over the specific type of system have slowed the process in a meeting Tuesday. 

University President Kristina M. Johnson and Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce McPheron support a trimodal system, which includes the option for students to take courses in a pass, low pass or no pass format, according to an email from Senior Vice Provost Kay Wolf obtained by The Lantern.  

Under the trimodal system, a pass would be a C-minus or higher, a low pass would be any grade within the D range and a no pass would be below a D. Both the pass and low pass options would earn credit and not factor into students’ GPAs.

Pass and low pass grades can meet general education and elective requirements but will not count toward major or minor requirements under this recommendation, according to the email. After the university went online due to the pandemic spring semester, many individual colleges decided on their own to allow pass/no pass courses to count towards major and minor requirements.

The proposal will extend the deadlines for withdrawal and opting into the trimodal system to Nov. 20 for 14-week courses, Oct. 2 for courses taking place in the first seven weeks of fall semester and Nov. 20 for courses taking place in the second seven weeks of fall semester, according to the email. Previous deadlines were Oct. 30, Sept. 25 and Nov. 13, respectively. 

However, Undergraduate Student Government is in favor of a bimodal system identical to the one implemented in the spring semester, but still sees the benefits of a trimodal one, Student Body President Roaya Higazi said. 

“In all cases, we would definitely advocate for the trimodal pass/no pass option over our regular grading system as it stands now for this semester,” Higazi said. 

Higazi said the discrepancy between bimodal and trimodal is small, but the push for bimodal is to not single out students who may receive D’s.

Higazi said USG is advocating for students to be able to use the pass/no pass system for major and minor courses, but the University Senate would need to add an amendment to the resolution to allow colleges to opt in to the decision.

“We’re very much so advocating for that amendment to appear on the resolution again and highly encouraging colleges to opt into a pass/no pass option for their major and minor courses, similar to how many of them did last semester,” Higazi said. 

The University Senate is currently looking into an alternative to both systems. Amani Samuels, a second-year in international studies and USG representative to the Council on Enrollment and Student Progress, said this system would resemble what the University of Michigan is doing.

According to the University of Michigan’s Office of the Registrar website, it offers a pass/no record COVID grading option. A pass option would be any grade above a C-minus. Students who receive lower than that, including D’s, would receive a “No Record COVID” on their transcript and no course credit. This does not impact their GPA and students have the option of selecting which courses they want to convert. 

Samuels said the bimodal option USG advocates is ideal, but because there is pushback from advising departments and deans about specific requirements, she said USG will support the 

“If that (the trimodal system) is to go forward, then university student government would support that over, let’s say, Michigan’s system that they’re doing or keeping things the same way they are,” Samuels said. 

Some faculty disagree with this perspective and the decision for a pass/no pass system all together. 

In an email obtained by The Lantern sent Sunday, David Tomasko, associate dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Services and a professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering, said that making this change undermines the work faculty have done to prepare for the semester.

In the email, Tomasko said accepting that students’ situations are no different than they were in the spring would admit that “the tens of thousands of person-hours” faculty, staff and administration spent preparing for the fall had “ZERO impact” on learning at the university. 

“What a depressing thought. I don’t believe it’s true,” the email reads. 

Tomasko said changing the system at this point of the semester would be asking faculty to do more work to adjust to the new rules. 

Tomasko also said that it is unfair to only apply the rules to general education courses. 

“Try as I might, I cannot find any rational way of applying the change to a subset of courses without resulting in unequal impact on students,” Tomasko said. “Students not enrolled in any GE courses this semester will receive no benefit whatsoever. In my mind, that’s completely unfair. If we proceed with this, it has to be all or nothing to be equitable.”

Tomasko said in an email Wednesday this proposal changes “the rules of engagement” for students and faculty and will only increase stress. 

“All the colleges were in agreement this summer that we would revert back to a regular grading scale for this academic year,” Tomasko said. “Then students were notified in late July how their courses would be offered and given an opportunity to change their schedule.  Now that classes have started we are all trying to execute the best we can on plans we laid out.”

He also said he still believes only offering any pass/no pass option for general education courses is unfair.

A quorum has not been reached at the meetings because there have not been enough voting members present, Samuels said. 

The details of the next meeting and discussion on the pass/no pass option are unknown at the time of publication. Minutes for Tuesday’s meetings were not provided by the time of publication.