UGA Administrative Building Mug.jpg (pass/fail)

University of Georgia undergraduate students and UGA School of Law students have created petitions calling for a transition to a pass/fail grading system for the remainder of the spring semester. (Photo/Jason Born)

University of Georgia students are petitioning for the university to adopt a pass/fail grading system for spring semester as classes shift to online instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One petition asks for the pass/fail system to be opt-in only and has garnered over 4,400 signatures as of Sunday. Olivia Richardson, a sophomore cognitive science and psychology double major, said she started the petition after she realized the scope of people affected by the coronavirus and the transition to online classes.

Richardson said this situation will likely affect the mental and physical health of faculty members and students. Additionally, she said students will not be afforded the in-person resources while learning outside of UGA’s campus, such as physical library textbooks, free tutoring and one-on-one meetings with professors.

“And just to think that this semester is going to be comparable to any other?” Richardson said. “I can't even comprehend how you could think that when people are going to be getting sick, and this is going to continue happening.”

A University System of Georgia spokesperson said USG would not implement a pass/fail grading system in a statement sent to its member institutions last week.

USG’s statement said it was aware that other institutions across the country transitioned to a pass/fail system but would continue letter grading through the end of the semester to “allow faculty to assess the performance of students in the same manner they always have.” 

“In times of adversity, we should reach higher, not lower,” the statement said. “Maintaining high academic standards is critical to the success of USG students now and in the future.”

Other colleges and universities, such as the University of Alabama, Vanderbilt University, Emory University Law School and Florida State University, have adopted different levels of pass/fail options for students. Students at schools such as the University of Florida and the University of South Carolina are joining UGA students in petitioning their schools.

“The USG has made the decision to maintain the current grading structure for all system classes this semester, and we support that decision,” said UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor in an email to The Red & Black. “We trust our faculty to assess the performance of their students, as they always have, on work performed before and after our temporary closure.”

Trevor wrote that the Office of Instruction has made resources available to help students succeed during the transition to online instruction. The resources include an “eLC Experience” optional course with recommended strategies to maximize online learning and a new faculty and student resource website, which offers information about experiential and service learning methods.

The petition on specifies that this system would be opt-in, meaning students could choose whether their transcript would reflect a traditional grading scale or the pass/fail option.

Richardson said the option is necessary because of students’ apprehension about a new grading scale. She specifically cited students applying to medical school or graduate school who may prefer to keep the typical A-F grading scale.

Junior journalism major Trey Young said he supports a pass/fail system and recognizes the value of giving students the option.

“In this particular unprecedented time, I do think that we should definitely be a lot more flexible, a lot more open-minded on how we go about doing our academics,” Young said. “UGA definitely needs to at least present the option of having a [pass/fail] grading system.”

Another petition circulating from the UGA Student Bar Association, the student government organization of the UGA School of Law, is calling for USG to adopt a mandatory pass/fail system for all “1L [first year law] and upperclassmen courses, doctrinal, writing, or otherwise.”

The Student Bar Association sent a letter to Dean Peter Rutledge and Randy Beck, an associate dean, saying “the current public health crisis makes letter grading intolerably inequitable.”

The letter said it was sent to the law school administration on March 26 with 189 signatures of law students that were removed to protect the students’ privacy.

A group of law students from the UGA law school and Georgia State University School of Law sent a petition to the USG Board of Regents asking the board to either require or allow the two law schools to use a pass/fail grading system for the rest of the semester. The petition has over 500 signatures as of Sunday.

“While we recognize that the USG may have sound reasons for preventing widespread adoption of pass/fail mid-semester by the twenty-six higher education institutions within its umbrella, we strongly believe that certain factors make law school uniquely warranting of special action by the Board of Regents to ensure student well being and overall equity,” the petition sent to USG reads.