We recently wrapped up a difficult semester. Before I delve into next semester and the policy changes that the University should enact, I want to recognize an important achievement for University students — long story short, we survived. Let us take a moment to breathe and temporarily discard an academic environment that has us believe we must be on the grind every night and day. I’m proud of us. We pulled through — maybe not unscathed — but alive. We must now ensure the University meets our needs as we enter another difficult semester.
Provost Liz Magill recently announced a continuation of the fall grading policy — one which gave us the option to take our courses with the standard letter grade or credit/no credit/universal credit. While I’m thankful that the University extended some kind of helping hand, this grading policy does not fully consider students who have been disadvantaged due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rather, it creates the illusion of fairness through a policy that provides more grading options to students — only to reveal why those very options still inhibit students taking them.
In her email to students, Magill attached a page of advising principles. Two words stand out in this list of principles — “holistic” and “trend.” This webpage notes a “national trend” across law, medical and business postgrad programs toward viewing applications with a “holistic approach” — while still recommending students take letter grades in certain required classes. However, that supposedly holistic approach is not set in stone. After all, “trend” is not all-encompassing — and letter grades are still being encouraged as more impressive. Encouraging students seeking certain postgraduate opportunities to take letter grades in their classes is evidence enough that we need some sort of equalizer.
While we can’t characterize the student body under any universal description, we can assume there are many students on Grounds living with a great deal of privilege during this pandemic. Privilege includes having a healthy and safe environment to return home to or quarantine in. It includes not having financial anxieties because of the pandemic. It includes having stable mental health and solid support systems. It also includes not being a victim of the racism, transphobia, ableism and other forms of discrimination that this pandemic has intensified.
Disparities of privilege necessitate a universal credit/no credit grading policy for the sole fact that some students will be better suited to receive letter grades. I suggest this not on the basis of higher intellect — though academia’s incredibly meritocratic environment would have us think we can accomplish anything if we try hard enough — but rather to these higher levels of privilege. Again, while this isn’t a catch-all truth, students not experiencing anxieties over money, domestic turmoil, health or prejudice — to name a few — have fewer stressors.
Thus, the University is wrong to continue the fall grading policy. I’ve seen in my circles of close friends the stress of having to decide between grading options, particularly when the deadline to do so occurs before students can even guess their grade. Students have protested this policy before, starting back when the University implemented a similar policy earlier this spring.
At this point, it feels as though our administration is side-stepping student demands and letting students swept up in its meritocracy enjoy the privilege that comes with their A next to another student’s Credit. In reality, no employer or postgraduate program can know the context of what either student is truly going through right now. A universal credit/no credit policy wouldn’t place us all on an even playing field, but it would recognize that players are no less valuable just because they received Credit. While some students may utilize this semester to boost their GPA, they must recognize that their GPA should not be valued at the sacrifice of fellow students.
This upcoming semester will be the most unpredictable of all three semesters we’ve moved through during the coronavirus pandemic. With COVID-19 vaccines administered across the country, I worry that some students will feel safe to be reckless before the country has recovered. While I think we all share the desire for a return to normalcy, we must wait until this vaccine has worked its way through most of the country before we can reemerge from the confines of quarantine — which may not be in the near future as the country steadily approaches 400,000 deaths from coronavirus.
Regardless, I — alongside so many University students — am sick and tired of learning beneath an umbrella of administrators who rarely prioritize our needs. When they do, it’s a version of this same muddled favor that gives us little relief. I call on Provost Magill to listen to students and implement a universal credit/no credit grading policy for the spring semester.
Bryce Wyles is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.