Professors must support students where optional pass/fail does not

Maria Sailale

Now more than ever, UT needs to prioritize student voices. 

In response to the pandemic, student petitions urging universities to adopt more compassionate grading systems have been sweeping through campuses across the nation — UT among them. A little over a week ago, UT’s Faculty Council voted to reject one such student petition to adopt the “Double-A” policy in favor of the opt-in pass/fail policy currently in place. 

The double-A grading policy, they argued in the resolution, “would limit the students’ ability to understand and achieve key learning objectives as determined by faculty, and it would undermine the meaning of the letter grades A and A-.” 

I was disappointed to read this because it indicates just how desperate we are to cling to normalcy in the midst of a crisis. Maybe if the circumstances were less drastic, less strange, less severe, “undermining the meaning of the letter grades A and A-” would be a more pressing concern. But I fail to understand how the arbitrary meaning of letter grades takes priority over the well-being of students. If it seems like we have nothing else to do, in reality many of us are juggling new responsibilities at home. If it seems like we should be coping, it is worth noting that many of us are in unbearably stressful circumstances in addition to the pandemic.

Optional pass/fail does not adequately support students’ well-being. Not only does it leave many students behind, but it assumes the worst by implying that we would take advantage of a policy that fundamentally aims to support students during an unprecedented crisis. The University frequently boasts about the accomplishments of its students but then suggests that they don’t believe that we are passionate about learning or that we take our education seriously or that we understand what’s at stake. 

When they ask us to opt-in, they fail to recognize that they are asking us to sacrifice more than what many of us feel like we can afford. We are, for lack of better words, in uncharted waters, and they just keep getting murkier. When the worst of the pandemic is behind us, we will still have our futures to consider. We have no way of knowing how graduate programs, employers, etc. will regard students who make the decision to opt-in. We fear that we’ll be criticized and looked down upon, unfairly categorized as unambitious, lazy and incapable of just toughing it out. We appealed to the powers of the administration, and in turn, they have failed us. 

Even though the decision has already been made, I ask that UT consider again what this means for students. I ask that individual professors take it upon themselves to support students in ways that won’t hurt them — not just the ones in the best-case scenarios, but also the ones in the worst. I urge professors to be diligent in supporting your students’ best efforts to continue pursuing their passions and interests rather than hold their circumstances against them.

Sailale is a freshman undeclared PACE major from Dallas.