By: Wade Glover
This semester carried extraordinary challenges for every member of the campus community as we collectively grappled with the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Student Senate passed S-107-08, a resolution in support of enacting pass/fail grading for the fall 2020 semester, on Oct. 27. As representatives of the student body, we quickly recognized the difficult circumstances students have faced in fall 2020 in addition to the rigor of SMU courses.
SMU administration responded to the legislation on November 16.
In their response to Student Senate’s pass/fail legislation, SMU administration said they will retain the current grading system. Provost Elizabeth Loboa explained the decision to implement the interim grading policy for Spring 2020 was ”in response to the challenges our students faced with transition to online learning” and “in line with many of our cohort and aspirational peers.” However, many of SMU’s cohort and aspirational peers have also enacted a form of pass/fail grading for the Fall 2020 semester.
Peer Institutions: George Washington University, American University, University of Texas at Austin,Lehigh University, University of Denver, Brandeis University, University of Tulsa, and Tufts University
Aspirant Institutions: University of Pennsylvania, Duke University, New York University, University of North Carolina, University of Southern California. Northwestern University, University of California Berkeley, Georgetown University
Additionally, data presented to Student Senate about halfway through the semester by Associate Provost for Student Academic Engagement and Success Dr. Sheri Kunovich showed a clear majority of students were not satisfied with the overall experience in SMUFlex classes and had “few to many” concerns about their success. The data also reported one-third of students expressed they “performed worse than expected on their assignments and exams” in the SMUFlex courses.
Students attending classes entirely online were even less satisfied with their academic experience and a similar proportion reported performing worse than expected on assignments. Thousands of students have since shared their concerns with Student Senate on social media, on a Change.org petition, or via email to Student Senate. Only their initials are shown here to protect their privacy.
“Students did not have a break all semester. Learning through Zoom is tiring and difficult.” A.S.
“COVID-19 has been hard on my family… I just can’t find a balance.” A.D
“Online learning is completely different than in a classroom, even professors admit this.” B.D.
“This semester is abnormal and to treat [it] as normal is academically dishonest.” B.T.
“Many students are still struggling even though everything ‘went as planned.’” J.L.
“The education I received this year in no way resembled a real SMU education.” J.H.
“A lot of hardships have struck my family that have made it hard to put school first.” C.C.
“… the school wants to calculate a GPA. It’s a miracle we are just here and safe.” I.D.
That is the point of this essay: yes, thankfully, this semester did not feature the same rapid, unforeseeable emergency as in the spring, but students still faced unprecedented challenges from the pandemic. There have been more than 800 cases of COVID-19 in the SMU community since August with dozens of students in quarantine at any given point in the semester. Campus organizations, athletic events, and general gatherings that typically provide students with a break. were, with a few exceptions, entirely absent from campus life this year.
The most recent reasoning administration has provided for rejecting a pass/fail system for this semester is the extension of the course drop date to December 2. However, the standard policies about dropping still apply.
Apparently the best administration can offer to the students they acknowledge are facing “tremendous challenges” is a nonrefundable course withdrawal that negates the work a student put in all semester with a “W” grade on their official transcript. Dropping may also affect financial aid or scholarships, and will likely require students to take the course again for grade or major purposes.
Myself, and every member of the student body and campus community, want the best for this university and our continued studies. The bottom line is that students need support in this moment.
We have proposed a potential solution that SMU has used before, and most of our peer and aspirant institutions are using again. We have filled out surveys, passed legislation, started a petition, scheduled meetings, sent letters or emails, and done everything under the sun to communicate and prove our concerns to administration. It’s exhausting, demoralizing, and disappointing to still feel as if our voices aren’t being heard.
Wade Glover is a sophomore from Frisco, Texas studying finance and corporate communications and public affairs specializing in political communications. He has the privilege of serving the SMU community as a Student Senator representing Meadows School of the Arts and as a Resident Assistant in Mary Hay, Peyton, and Shuttles Commons. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the organizations he is affiliated with and are solely his own perspective.
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