On Oct. 23 two Change.org petitions, organized by students, began circulating throughout the Muhlenberg community. One petition called upon the College administration to adopt an optional pass/fail grading system for the Fall 2020 semester and the other urged the administration to formally close the College on Election Day.
The first petition, started by Ana Gonzalez Vargas ‘21, argues that the option for a pass/fail semester is necessary because of the unprecedented learning environment students are facing in a pandemic-minded world. With over 370 signatures out of its goal of 500, the petition represents the student body in saying that this college experience is currently not normal and should not be treated as though it is.
“We are not in a normal academic year, therefore the traditional standards cannot possibly apply…We’re all aware that the professors are excellent at Muhlenberg, and their ability to pivot to an online environment demonstrates their excellence. Yet, there is little professors and students could control about the current circumstances that will make it a challenging semester for many students,” stated the petition.
During the instability of the transition to an online Spring 2020 semester, the College decided to adopt an optional pass/fail system. The reason for not extending this policy into the fall was that professors had received extensive training for teaching in an online environment.
“We are not in a normal academic year, therefore the traditional standards cannot possibly apply…”
“I don’t expect the Muhlenberg administration to know the impact of remote school on students as it’s completely novel territory for everyone. I am proud of the decision Muhlenberg College took at the start of this semester and it’s clear now that it was the correct decision. I guess my only wish is that everyone in K-12 and higher education focuses on the well being of both students and educators,” Vargas said.
The petition cites MIT, Bowdoin College, UNC, University of Michigan, Depaul University, East Carolina University and Ohio State University as institutions that have provided students with some form of a “safety net” this semester. It states that while MIT reinstated a letter grading system this semester, they will not report any failing grades on students’ transcripts.
“I wish that the Muhlenberg administration knew that we’re not just students, we’re people. We don’t just attend our zoom classes, and we don’t just do our homework. I wish they knew that we have real emotions, and that we have real tasks/duties/commitments outside of an academic curriculum. Being at home has its many challenges, and to be honest, one’s academics are not the most important during these times. There are pandemics—racism and COVID-19— that we’re facing. Wouldn’t you think that one’s health is to be valued more than a letter grade?” stated Giovanni Merrifield ‘23.
“I spend all day in my room doing work, this is not healthy or feasible for the long term, and for this reason, it is absolutely essential the administration is made aware of these challenges and that we are at least given the option to pass/fail,” added Becca Baitel ‘23.
While Vargas’ petition asks for a temporary shift in the grading policy, the petition urging College closure on Election Day, started by Matan Kogen ‘23, seeks a more long-term effect. With over 360 signatures out of it’s goal of 500, the petition aims to not only achieve closure this year, but in subsequent years as well to encourage voter turnout.
“I’m fearful that students’ needing to be in class or to work on assignments – therefore, being unable to take care of dependents – could preclude them and others in their household from voting.
“Especially in 2020, with all the potential issues with voting that Covid-19 poses, it is necessary to provide every member of the Muhlenberg community (students, faculty members, staff members, and the families of all of the above) ample time to vote,” stated the petition.
“The College’s current decision to hold classes and allow assignments to be due on Election Day runs directly contrary to the work of and views expressed by both the Office of Community Engagement and BergVotes – both Muhlenberg organizations – as well as the position expressed in Muhlenberg’s expressed commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Kogen said.
“I’m fearful that students’ needing to be in class or to work on assignments – therefore, being unable to take care of dependents – could preclude them and others in their household from voting. I think Muhlenberg should avoid scheduling classes on election day in future years as well; and I think Muhlenberg needs to put serious thought into making sure all of the College’s staff, such as those who work in dining services and the custodial staff have enough time to vote as well,” Kogen concluded.
Both of these petitions are still seeking signatures and can be found below.