On Wednesday, March, 18, 2020, in Athens, Georgia, The University of Georgia's campus is barren. On a mid-week afternoon day, the week after UGA's spring break, the campus should be filled with students, professors, and campus activity. But amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, and the cancellation of classes for the rest of the semester, the entire campus is left with an eerie emptiness. (Photo/Sophie Yaeger/shy41872@uga.edu)

In response to the transition to online learning, students at University System of Georgia schools have been signing a petition in support of an opt-in pass/fail grading system for the spring 2020 semester. However, the University System of Georgia came out against this proposal, stating that students should continue striving for academic excellence.

Specifically, USG wants “to allow faculty to assess the performance in the same manner they always have” and encourages students to “reach higher, not lower.”

“Maintaining high academic standards is critical to the success of USG students now and in the future” USG’s statement said.

I take issue with this statement because it implies that a pass/fail system prevents academic excellence and that students are attempting to reach lower. This indicates that USG assumes the students it serves are looking for an opportunity to be lazy, rather than an opportunity to set themselves up with the best possible chance of success.

Further, I find it ironic that USG wants to allow faculty to assess performance in the same manner when the manner of instruction and learning is as far from the norm as possible. And it’s not only students who are affected. Faculty are expected, after a period of only two weeks, to have radically altered their syllabi to fit the new online format. While I trust my professors to do their best, that time crunch is bound to lead to issues.

I don’t assume to speak for the entire student body, but given the University of Georgia Student Government Association’s support and the circulation of similar petitions, it is clear students are concerned about their ability to perform to the same standard with online learning.

Online learning is not the same as traditional learning, and it is confounding that USG expects students to achieve the same level of excellence given these limitations. Further, it is impossible to know students’ individual situations and whether those situations are conducive to online learning. Students might be returning to circumstances with bad internet or sick loved ones and be unable to focus on classes.

For seniors, GPAs are final this semester. As I prepare to graduate, maintaining my GPA is a top priority, and the transition to online classes threatens my ability to do so.

Students have already been tossed into a maelstrom of uncertainty. This is especially true of seniors who will enter a job market with booming unemployment and businesses not looking to hire. USG’s decision to ignore our requests is not indicative of an institution seeking to represent the needs of its students, and I encourage USG to reconsider their position.

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