During the spring 2020 semester, UT provided many students with much-needed relief by allowing them to pass/fail any class, including core and major-required classes. UT has decided to revert back to its normal pass/fail policy for the summer and fall semesters.
It has become clear the normal policy was never equitable to begin with and that UT is failing to focus on the needs of its students.
Given UT consciously decided to reopen campus despite the risks students and faculty will face due to COVID-19, the University must continue to provide methods of academic support for students — many of whom are facing mental, physical and financial hardships due to the pandemic.
UT must not only continue the pass/fail policy implemented in the spring but also learn from recent events that are spotlighting systemic inequities and expand the pass/fail policy to support students recovering from difficult circumstances.
Joey Williams, the director of communications for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said in an email that the pass/fail option was a way of giving students flexibility in light of the lack of time or notice to prepare for the shift online. Although many courses will be taught online, Williams said the pass/fail policy will not change for summer of fall.
“Students are able to make their fall course and attendance decisions with advance knowledge of the mode of delivery, which was not the case in spring,” Williams said.
Brandon Thint, a neuroscience senior who used the pass/fail policy in the spring, said Williams’ explanation is not fair.
“We didn’t really pay to be in an online course with zero tuition deductions, especially in the U.S., which is currently in one of its highest spikes with its failure to properly distance,” Thint said. “Because of that, there’s a lot of outlying circumstances causing a large change in lifestyle and people not having a correct mental and physical well-being.”
UT’s refusal to make changes past the bare minimum reveals the pass/fail policy was never equitable to begin with because it leaves behind students who may need the policy most.
That said, it is imperative UT not only re-implement the spring pass/fail policy but also extend it to students who have gone through traumatic, performance-impacting or life-altering events in future semesters.
“In the past and in the future, outside of COVID, I think that if there is (an) outside circumstance, a pass/fail option would be a necessary option for them to take,” Thint said.
Less than a month before UT shut down due to COVID-19, my father passed away. I was not only emotionally impacted by this event, but I lost the ability to read without getting an extreme headache for over two weeks. As I had an 18-hour course load, this proved to significantly impact my grades.
While professors were accommodating to a degree, it is hard to recover from not being able to read for two weeks. At the time, I couldn’t pass/fail my classes since they counted toward my major, and as I was already planning on taking a fifth year, Q-dropping simply wasn’t an option.
Once the University announced students could pass/fail classes that count toward their majors, I felt a massive burden lift. That being said, while the policy was implemented due to COVID-19, the pandemic wasn’t the reason I needed to pass/fail my classes.
The events of 2020 have shown the student body that UT’s pass/fail policy was never equitable in the first place.
UT should not only change the pass/fail policy for the summer and fall semesters in response to the pandemic but also expand this policy to assist students who have been through traumatic circumstances, creating a fair academic atmosphere.
Bergfeld is a radio-television-film and anthropology senior from Houston, Texas.