Open letter to faculty and leadership on grading policy

André Williams

Dear University leaders, faculty and staff,

As I sit at home with my family, I realize how starkly different my reality is from those of many of my peers. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, my life has continued mostly unaffected. I am doing my duties as a responsible citizen by practicing social distancing and quarantining myself. However, I am safe. My family is safe. Not only do we have food, we have plenty of bath tissue and sanitizer as well. My mother is still employed and adapting to working from home.

Unfortunately, as the University determines how to best transition during this unprecedented time, it must understand that not all students have families such as mine. Being that this is a first-time experience, unfamiliar and unknown, we must elect an equally unique solution — one that addresses the problems of all students.

The pandemic has forever changed the lives of UT students. Students have lost their jobs. Students have had to uproot and move back home. Students have parents who are sick. Students have extended family members who are sick. Students have friends who are sick. Students have parents without jobs. Students have siblings without daycare. And students are worrying about how they will get essential necessities in a time when grocery stores have been depleted. Shelves are empty and reminiscent of dystopian novel scenes.

Although the lives of all UT students will be changed as a result of the pandemic, these worries are magnified in the lives of students who come from low-income, first-generation college or abusive backgrounds. How does a student dealing with financial issues prior to the pandemic focus on school now without a job? Does pass/fail help them when they’re figuring out how they will be paying rent? Does pass/fail help those without enough food to eat? Does pass/fail help those who have to take care of their siblings because daycares are shut down? Does pass/fail help students who are immunocompromised or are with sick family members who are focused on their health? Does pass/fail help those who have abusive or unsafe home lives? The answer is no.

Any solution that does not consider the previously listed issues fails students and perpetuates inequality. For those trying to survive in the midst of a global pandemic, academics should not add to their worries.
Especially in times like these, the role of the University is to help alleviate the burdens of all students. An opportunity to do so is adopting the Double A grading model.

A Double A grading model would appoint students grades of either A or A- for all of their courses. This would ensure that students still receive credit and grades for all coursework needed to satisfy degree, financial aid and scholarship requirements. A Double A policy would address the inequity associated with pass/fail because the students who are likely to fail are those without the proper home support and those with more pressing worries, not those who just don’t care. This policy would allow those students to focus on their most pressing needs rather than force them to try to compete for a grade or “pass” that, in the grand scheme of things, is more or less irrelevant.

Students have worked very hard in the first half of the semester to do well in their courses. A Double A policy acknowledges that hard work.

The current University response will exacerbate inequality by failing to account for the varying realities of students’ home lives.

As we continue to transition, we must act in accordance with the current situation. This situation is unprecedented and evolving, and our solution must evolve past previously held ideas. This pandemic has shown that the only solution is the one where we come together. All students must be addressed. An equitable solution doesn’t force students to choose.

André Williams

Williams is an international business junior from Fort Worth.