Student, Faculty Concerns Prompt Pass/Fail Option

Madeline Polkinghorn, Managing News Editor

As of Wednesday, March 25th, Bates has moved to implement an optional pass/fail policy for the remainder of the winter semester as a means of adjusting academic expectations in response to the emergence of COVID-19 and remote learning. The policy, which was communicated by Dean of the Faculty Malcolm Hill, reads as follows:

1. Students may designate pass/fail grading for any Winter 2020 semester course, including either a one-semester winter thesis or the winter semester of a two semester thesis, until May 5, 2020 at 5 pm EDT. If a Fall 2019 semester thesis grade was deferred for an ongoing two-semester thesis, the fall semester grade assigned at the end of Winter 2020 semester would not convert to pass/fail, even if a student elects to take the winter semester thesis pass/fail. 

2. Faculty members submit a regular letter grade (A, B, C, D, F) to the registrar. A grade of D-minus or above is considered a passing grade. Unless the student chooses to inform the instructor, only the student, the student’s advisor, and the registrar know the grading mode for the course. 

3. For courses taken in the Winter 2020 semester, any pass/fail restrictions on major, minor, general education, or BS requirements are waived. Courses taken pass/fail are not computed in the student’s grade point average. A pass is equivalent to two quality points.

The most important stipulations of the policy are: pass/fail grading is optional, may be applied to thesis, will not affect grade point averages and will override any restrictions for major, minor or GEC requirements. 

The shift to optional pass/fail grading was, at least in part, a response to an overwhelming student demand. Bates College Student Government President Ryan Lizanecz ‘20 wrote a letter to the administration arguing for pass/fail grading. 

“I strongly encourage Bates to provide the opportunity for students to declare their classes pass/fail, if the student wants to do so,” he wrote. “This will provide those who desperately need to destress to do so in a healthy way while completing their coursework, while allowing others who wish to keep their grades to do so.” 

On our own Instagram page (@TheBatesStudent), we conducted an informal poll asking if Bates should implement an optional pass/fail policy. We recorded 301 respondents, 90% of whom voted in favor of a pass/fail policy. We also recorded many written arguments for the policy on our Instagram. Caitlyn Fitzgerald ‘21 wrote that “remote learning will leave many students disadvantaged and deprived of learning resources.” William Hibbits ‘21 simply stated that “we did not pay to go to online college.”

Most notably, however, was the production of an online petition, where over 432 students (roughly 24% of the student body) advocated for the policy. This petition was started by Ben Stratton ‘21 and initially shared via the Class of 2021 and 2020 Facebook pages. 

“The underlying truth is that virtual learning creates an uneven playing field,” the petition reads. “Some students have never had online classes, and some depend heavily on face-to-face interactions with their professors via office hours. Each student has a different situation at home, some being more equipped for online classes and some not at all.”

Not all students, of course, will choose to take a class pass/fail. In another informal poll conducted on our Instagram, out of 144 respondents 58% voted that they would take one or more class pass/fail. 

Bates’ near future remains uncertain. It’s still unclear how successful online learning will be. The school has not yet cancelled graduation. We still do not know if we will even be able to return in September. Whatever happens, though, it has become abundantly clear that COVID-19 has irrevocably altered the structure of our winter semester.