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The Mass Media

Changes to pass/fail with Emily McDermott

April 3, 2020—After an email was sent out to all students, faculty, and staff on March 25 regarding new pass/fail and withdrawal policies for the 2020 spring semester, Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Emily McDermott, was contacted for an interview.

Abbey Basile: Alright so, you reset the pass/fail and withdrawal to May 13, and you lifted the limit of one pass/fail per semester.

Emily McDermott: Yeah, for this semester only.

AB: This semester only, yes. Who was involved with those decisions?

EM: Oh my, well, all the deans were heavily involved, and the Vice Provost for Academic and Student Services was involved, the Registrar was involved; it was sort of an all academic affairs kind of set of discussions. Certainly faculty were involved, because the faculty had brought a motion, a similar kind of motion, to the faculty council, so they brought that motion while we were already discussing doing it. So it was a confluence of interests, the faculty bringing it on students’ behalf because students had come to faculty, and the deans and others bringing it on students’ behalf because they had decided it was a good way to go.

AB: Yeah, awesome. So, obviously, the pandemic was a big factor in this decision, were there any more specific factors?

EM: Well, no, I think everything was pandemic related … As it became clearer in the couple weeks coming up to spring break that we might have to go remote, we were deeply concerned about how that transition would work. Because although we have a lot of faculty who are already quite technically capable, and a lot of students who are quite technically capable, we have some that are more challenged in that area, both faculty and students. And as a result, we were very concerned about how we would make this work. So the first couple weeks we spent trying to educate faculty that are not already users of Blackboard or other remote methodologies in how to do that, and as soon as we made the transition and there was no catastrophe, we started turning to thinking about the impact on students. And certainly we figured that students’ lives were as disrupted as all of our lives are, in that suddenly, working from home is complicated by having children running around, or siblings running around, and people you have to care for because maybe they’re sick or they’re quarantined, and so we wanted to make sure the people, a little bit, had their stresses reduced by this option. I’m hoping people won’t opt for it too precipitously, it may be that they’re able to make the transition … We’ve been talking to faculty, suggesting they be very flexible in this transition, and so I think more students are going to be able to finish their classes [on a] regular graded basis than might feel that that’s possible right at this moment. And that’s the purpose of delaying the withdrawal deadline, and the pass/fail deadline to the last day of classes.

AB: That makes a lot of sense. I guess my last question is, is there anything else regarding this decision that’s important to note?

EM: Yeah, I think there is … One of the things that the deans and I have been continuing to work on, since we approved this policy change, is a list of how that really will affect anybody in their major courses, because there are limits in the majors, many majors right now, on how many online courses can count towards the major. You know, if a major consists, say, of ten courses, then many of the requirements say ‘and only one can be taken pass/fail’ or some say ‘and none can be taken pass/fail.’ So we don’t want students to read the policy and say, ‘Oh, I can take all five of my classes pass/fail this semester,’ and then get burned because they didn’t think about the fact that they wouldn’t be able to count them towards their major. So, the deans in the departments have been working very hard, and today we’re posting a list on the coronavirus website, and it’ll be sent out to all students by the Registrar as well, of how this pass/fail is going to be implemented within every major on campus. So … in it, we say what the rules are for each department, but we also say, ‘consult your advisor, consult your advisor, before you make these decisions,’ because there may be hidden traps, one of which is what we’ve been talking about: whether the courses count towards your major or not. Another is if you’re an international student, you might have visa requirements for a certain level of academic progress, that aren’t gonna get waived. We’ve also moved on campus not to run data this semester on academic progress, so nobody’s gonna move onto probation on the basis of what happens this semester, or, nobody’s gonna advance in an academic progress problem for this semester. But we can’t tell other countries that they should relax their rules for their international students. There can always be some kind of financial aid impact, so we ask people, if they’re gonna do it, just to check in with the Financial Aid Office and make sure that they don’t have requirements from financial aid, or that they wouldn’t get unintended effects if they moved to a lot of pass/fails. So those are cautions that students should think about, and they should liberally consult their advisors and relevant offices: Office of Global Programs for visa issues, Veterans’ Affairs for veterans’ issues, and Financial Aid …

On Friday night, the Registrar sent out an email containing the aforementioned list regarding pass/fail requirements within certain colleges and majors, along with other relevant pass/fail information.

About the Contributor
Abigail Basile, News Editor