Following the closure of hundreds of colleges and universities due to the spread of COVID-19 across the country, many students have raised questions about the grading system for the Spring 2020 semester. On Mar. 26, 2020, Muhlenberg College President Kathleen Harring sent an email rolling out a new “Temporary P/F Policy” to the student body, easing the fears of many about what their grades would look like in the face of the move to online classes.
This decision was heavily supported by a number of Muhlenberg students, who have been pushing for a pass/fail option since online classes began. A Change.org petition created by Quentin Clark ‘23 says, “It is going to be hard for students to get work done since they may have distractions at home or not the necessary resources to be successful at home. Due to this, grades will suffer across the student body and that’s not fair. Pass/Fail should be used only for this semester due to unforeseen circumstances.” The petition ultimately received 904 signatures.
“It is going to be hard for students to get work done since they may have distractions at home or not the necessary resources to be successful”
The email sent out by Harring on behalf of Provost Bruce Anderson says, “Students have the choice to take any class this semester P/F. This includes courses that count toward your major, minor or as a GAR.” Students have been given until May 18 to make the decision about declaring a course to be taken pass/fail, meaning final grades will be released before students have to make this decision.
Additionally, the College extended the withdrawal deadline until April 30, the last day of classes. This is a major extension from the original deadline, which had previously been March 23.
Many students felt positively about this decision given the recent changes which have largely altered student life.
Carlie Nieman ‘23 said, “I think it was very considerate for Muhlenberg to choose to make classes pass/fail because online classes can prove to be very difficult for students and not accurately reflect their abilities. I also think it is very thoughtful for Muhlenberg to let us decide if our classes are pass/fail after final grades are due. With everything that is going on right now, by letting us decide after grades are due, it puts less stress on the students.”
Michaela Boyer ‘20 provided the perspective of a senior, saying, “I think it is the right decision for a few reasons. Both the students and faculty may have a difficult time adjusting to remote learning due to many circumstances. Technology issues, concepts that are difficult to explain without having a face-to-face interaction, the stress of the ongoing pandemic and the lack of a proper learning environment at home are all things that needed to be considered when taking this decision into account. Many students, myself included, hope to keep a strong GPA for goals they wish to achieve at Muhlenberg and beyond, and this disruption has been a huge stressor that can be alleviated by the pass/fail option.”
Some students shared fears about how the change to pass/fail may affect their future endeavors. Chris Xu ‘23 said, “I think that it is good that Muhlenberg is offering pass/fail, especially with all the stress that COVID-19 has put on the campus community, especially the students. The backside to this whole situation is that for me, as well as other pre-health students, it is hard to predict what medical, dental and other graduate schools will accept when it comes time to applying.”
The College acknowledged these fears in their email, saying, “You should carefully consider your plans for after Muhlenberg while making your decisions. For example, some professional and graduate schools may require you to have letter grades for the semester,” and suggesting that students meet with their advisors before making decisions.
I believe relieving the stress of working towards a strong grade in my classes would be beneficial for my studies and overall well-being.”
In regards to actually taking classes pass/fail, Xu said, “I’m taking intro biology and chemistry this semester, which are required classes for dental school, which is why I am still hesitant on if I will actually pick any classes for pass/fail.”
“I most likely will not be taking any classes pass/fail due to financial aid and scholarship concerns, but I appreciate how it is available to other students,” added Nieman.
Madeleine Vaver ‘20 said, “I wouldn’t [take any classes pass/fail]. I’m pretty comfortable with my ability to succeed in online classes, and I, as well as other students, would be worried about the implications for grad school of having a P/F on my transcript.”
Other students looked beyond their transcript and towards personal well-being during this time of uncertainty. Boyer said, “I am definitely considering it for some of my courses. My final decision will be made after a discussion with my advisor and deciding what risks may be involved regarding graduate school applications, but ultimately I believe relieving the stress of working towards a strong grade in my classes would be beneficial for my studies and overall well-being.”