Student advocates say they faced contention during fight for pass/fail resolution

Samantha Greyson

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the March 12 issue of The Daily Texan.


Amid decreased student well-being documented in a Senate of College Councils survey last semester, a UT Student Government COVID-19 pass/fail resolution was modified and approved by UT President Jay Hartzell, granting students three COVID-19 pass/fails for the 2020-2021 academic school year.


In November, SG, the Senate and the Graduate Student Assembly passed a joint pass/fail resolution that would allow students to pass/fail any of their classes for the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters. The resolution would also extend the Q-drop period to May 11 for the spring 2021 semester and Dec. 9 for the fall 2020 semester.


A Senate student survey that showed students needed academic help during the COVID-19 pandemic backed the resolution as it went to the Faculty Council for approval, SG representative Caroline Seyer said. Steven Ding, a management information systems and urban studies junior who is also a Senate member, said it garnered over 600 student responses.


Additionally, over 10,000 students signed a Senate petition in support of the joint COVID-19 pass/fail resolution.


Isaac James, Senate vice president, said when he and other Student Government leaders brought the pass/fail resolution to the Faculty Council in an emergency meeting on Nov. 23, there was great contention.


“I haven’t been to (a Faculty Council meeting) that was ever as contentious as the one where we presented the pass/fail policy,” said James, a government and Plan II junior. “A lot of faculty believed that because we knew the whole semester was likely to be online, that students should have been prepared.”


In response to faculty pushback, James said Student Government leaders presented the results of the Senate survey, showing an overall decrease in mental health, academic health and physical well-being from spring 2020 to the fall 2020 semester.


After the Faculty Council passed the resolution on Nov. 23, it passed with modification from the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost on Nov. 25. Instead of granting pass/fail options for all classes, Hartzell allowed students to pass/fail three classes across the fall and spring semesters.


“The decision … was made by University leadership with recommendations from the Provost’s Office and in consultation with (the) Faculty Council,” University spokesperson Kathleen Harrison said. “Those recommendations consider a number of factors, such as timing within the academic calendar, resources, staffing and implications for students.”


Government sophomore Leland Murphy, who helped write the joint resolution, said he asked Hartzell about pass/fail legislation in a COVID-19 Town Hall on Nov. 9, and Hartzell said the faculty would decide. Murphy said he did not understand why Hartzell would then modify the resolution after the Faculty Council approved SG’s original plan.


“When the faculty governance votes in favor of it, to see him not respect his word, it’s like, well is this actually a democracy, or are you going to go against what the student body wants (and) what your own faculty and staff wants?” Murphy said.


Despite the final decision by Hartzell, Murphy said he was excited to see the student body rally around a common goal.


Biology sophomore Seyer, who helped initiate the joint resolution, said she believes the pass/fail options will help students struggling academically, financially and emotionally.


“As long as COVID is going on, there should be a lot more academic support for students and trying to empathize with students instead of upholding these really rigorous policies that aren’t really benefiting anyone,” Seyer said.