A petition calling on the Pitt government to change its evaluation policy and set the threshold for a pass or no evaluation in the spring semester, following the SARS CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic, has collected thousands of signatures since its launch two days ago.
The petition, inspired by the successful efforts of Carnegie Mellon University, called for a one-week deadline for students to change their grades to succeed or fail after receiving their final grades.
According to current university policy, students must complete their studies by 31 December. January to change to S/NC status.
However, the students reported that the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic and the move to online distance learning would reduce students’ stress and anxiety about their grades for this semester.
Zachariah Brown, president of the Student Council, raised the petition at a Thursday afternoon Senate session and asked whether Pitt would consider the proposed amendments to the petition.
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher replied that the petition was not the most important factor in the university administration’s decision on the matter.
Of all the contributions we receive to overcome this crisis, the number of signatories to the petition is not very high at the moment, according to Gallagher. I think it is enough for the CBSS members to share their ideas and concerns with us, but there is not much extra weight.
Dean Ann Cudd pointed out that the university has already made a decision on the C/NC policy and is in the process of making it known to the public.
Petitions aren’t really on our radar, Mr. Cudd said.
The university’s representative, Kevin Zwick, refused to provide additional information on the university’s decision.
Whether or not the petition has influenced the decision of the university, some members of the community strongly believe in the necessity of the SNA guidelines, both those who signed the petition and those who did not.
Students Maria Callas and Kaylie Renz saw the petition on Facebook and signed it because they knew it might not affect them but could still help their classmates.
As a graduate student, most dictations are done by our department, says Kallas, a graduate student of the physiotherapy department. I didn’t sign it because I think it should be run for physical therapy school… I have done more to put myself in the shoes of people for whom this can be a real challenge and [since] the ability to create success/failure can alleviate some problems.
Rentz, a PhD student in occupational therapy, also sees her program as flexible, but can be more difficult for students in other disciplines, such as those whose style or subject is not compatible with e-learning.
There are some things you can’t learn just by zooming in, Rentz said. When overtaking, it’s more of a buffer for those who can’t learn from a zoom call.
The psychologist Andrew Grimes has also seen the petition on Facebook, but does not think a change in policy would be helpful.
I don’t agree with that at all, and I don’t think the school should, because a lot of people, including me, apply for graduate school, and [many] admissions officers want to see actual transcripts and our grade point average, Grimes said.
Grimes acknowledged that there may be assessment issues, including the fact that many pupils are unlikely to follow the rules of closed tests, but said that teachers should try to follow the normal assessment rules.
Kallas and Renz also supported their decision for other reasons why students could benefit from a policy change, such as the increased need for students to support their families through work or childcare, the mental stress caused by the pandemic, the lack of access to tutoring, and the new distractions caused by changing learning environments.
If skip/not skip permission creates a space for students to feel less stressed and serve better, it should be fully enforced now, Kallas said.
Rebecca Johnson contributed to the story.