The University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Faculty Senate passed a motion on Tuesday encouraging a “pass/fail” course option for all interested students and professors for the rest of the Spring 2020 semester, one of many moves made by the UNH community as they attempt to accommodate a student body uprooted by the unprecedented coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and adapting to a fully-online learning experience. The motion still needs to be approved by President James W. Dean and his team before implementation.
The motion, acquired by The New Hampshire from a university professor who formerly attended the Senate meetings as an audience member and requested anonymity because the motion has yet to be approved by the university, states that students have until April 28 to request a “pass/fail” format for “any and all Spring 2020 [undergraduate] course(s) in progress that has (have) not ended at the time of this motion’s approval, and all such courses would follow established policy for P/F,” while individual courses must inform students and UNH administration by April 10 on their decision whether or not to adopt the format. Procedures for courses opting into the format are encouraged to be “developed and communicated by the Registrar’s Office as soon as possible.”
Per the text, the Faculty Senate is encouraging interested departments and programs to make their “pass/fail” policy as “liberal” as possible and “accept P [pass] as fulfilling major requirements whenever possible.” A “pass” grade in “pass/fail” courses will also count toward all degree requirements including Discovery courses, Bachelor of Arts (BA) language requirements, writing intensive courses, and all majors and minors except for “courses in academic programs that already have a minimum grade requirement and decide that they would like to maintain that requirement for the spring 2020 semester.”
Despite the motion’s flexibility, it also reads that, until April 28, students are only permitted to drop one course they are currently enrolled in, which will be marked as “W” on their transcripts; the option does not apply to courses where a student has “already been assigned an F for having broken the rules of academic integrity” within this semester. In addition, a student cannot use the “pass/fail” option to repeat a course.
Meanwhile, it also stresses that responsibilities for enforcing either a “pass/fail” format and/or a minimum grade requirement, as well as Spring 2020 advising, fall on participating departments and programs.
When asked about the status of the motion following its Senate approval, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Vanessa Druskat wrote in a March 31 email to The New Hampshire that the motion must go before “various levels” of university leadership before it reportedly lands on the desk of UNH President James W. Dean, Jr., and his team.
“There are likely to be motions from other groups and other opinions received by the President before any formal decision is made,” Druskat added.
The university has yet to release a formal statement on the motion or when it could be approved or implemented.
The motion passing in Senate has thus far yielded “mixed feelings” from students, according to graduate student and public policy major Evan Kelly, who wrote in a March 31 email to The New Hampshire that student responses to the motion, such as those from his classmates and friends, depend on their ability to take part in the altered and near-completely online learning environment from wherever they currently reside.
“On one hand they’re in a similar situation as me in that they are worse off academically as a result of this situation,” he said. “But on the other hand, we have already done a lot of work this semester and don’t want to see that invalidated.”
Kelly emphasized that his “similar” predicament stems from personal concerns over GPA and his ability to make up for lost time, writing that the coronavirus pandemic and an “unprecedented life situation” have set him back by as much as two weeks.
“My hope is that since this is such a universal event, that employers will see the dates on my pass/fail semester and understand the circumstances behind it,” he wrote. “…I think it would be unreasonable for UNH to expect its faculty and students to perform as if this is a normal situation.”
The graduate student added that “a lot of people” could potentially see declines in their GPAs thanks to the virus, suggesting that UNH “would rather just put the issue to rest rather than deal with further-disgruntled wildcats.”
Despite the impact of the pandemic, Kelly expressed optimism that UNH can return to a “semi-normal operation” next fall, predicting that the “pass/fail” accommodation will only be temporary. He wrote that officials nationwide are “improvising” at the moment and do not intend to make the system a “precedent” when the pandemic ends.
Nevertheless, Kelly stressed that the recent interest in adopting the format, especially from a displaced student body, proves how institutions like UNH are “much more flexible” than people give them credit for.
“In more stable times we speak about things like GPA’s and taxes as if they’re inalienable facts of life, but once the situation becomes more dire things can change very quickly,” he wrote. “I think this will be a good thing to remember when we want changes to the system in the future; that all those things that we consider immovable can be moved if people really wanted them to be.”