What we fail to consider when petitioning for pass/fail

Xavier Richardson, Staff Writer

The recent shift to online learning for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic left many students frustrated. These frustrations have manifested into a change.org petition titled “Make UTSA pass/fail Spring 2020,” which has been signed electronically by 3,200 people and counting. In reference to pass/fail grading as opposed to the traditional letter grade system, students receive a grade of either “pass” or “fail” at the end of the semester, resulting in their GPA being affected neither positively nor negatively in terms of the calculation of the average. Put more simply, any grade higher than a D will put students in the passing range to receive course credit.

While this seems like a great system to push for on the surface level, especially in the eyes of students who did not ask for online instruction, there are many ways pass/fail can negatively impact both faculty and students. The first issue that comes to mind is that a student who earned a C has an equitable grade to a student who earned an A in the pass/fail system. This leads those students earning As to consider whether it’s worth putting forth their best efforts, inherently leading students to become less motivated to complete coursework at a high level. Additionally, in terms of how this affects professors, it’s discouraging to see students not give their best effort in class, especially when those classes were restructured to be online compatible by professors who are still committed to educating their students to the best of their ability. Thus, it would hurt both professors and students to move to a pass/fail system.

Long-term, pass/fail negatively affects students who are working toward a higher GPA in hopes of getting into a graduate program. Generally, most graduate programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0 to apply, so applicants (such as myself) who didn’t do as well early on in their undergraduate days look to improve their grades before application deadlines at the end of the calendar year. Switching to pass/fail would rob those students of that opportunity, since receiving a grade of “pass” won’t raise their GPAs to get them to the 3.0 mark. Sure, they’ll still graduate, but it will make continuing their education and pursuing the career they want a lot more difficult. 

Bottom line is, we must recognize that the UTSA administration is doing their best to accommodate students, faculty and staff in the face of this pandemic. It’s safe to say that there are still issues that need to be resolved, but no one was truly prepared for the recent series of events. Online classes aren’t ideal for anyone, and it’s inconvenient that the switch had to happen midway through the semester, but switching to a pass/fail system can only hurt more than it will help. Although switching over to completely internet-based coursework is still a work in progress, UTSA has made leaps and bounds to take precautionary measures against spreading COVID-19 and accommodate as many people as possible in the short span of about two weeks. As students, we still have the opportunity to obtain a college education and earn a degree in spite of a global crisis; we should not take that for granted.

Illustration by Alex Hanks