An optional pass/fail grading system has been introduced into the Montclair State University undergraduate curriculum as of Monday, March 23, after multiple digital petitions asked the university to adapt to evolving problems created by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Petitions were created using change.org to encourage the university to refund its students for housing costs, request the university apply a universal passing grade for all students and ask the university to implement an optional pass/fail grading system.
According to Erika Bleiberg, the university’s media relations director, the university always welcomes input from the student body, but the petitions that were made by concerned students are not responsible for the overall decisions made by the administration.
“We are aware of the petitions, but they are not the reason why we made the decisions. The decisions to offer pass/fail grading options and provide refunds to students for unused portions of housing plans, dining plans and parking permits were already under consideration before we received the petitions,” Bleiberg said.
Elena Perez, a freshman journalism major, created a pass/fail petition because she believes students’ grades should not suffer due to the switch to online classes.
“[Montclair State] students are appreciative that the university has taken the health of its students and faculty into consideration and that they are providing online instruction; however, we believe that the next step is to allow a pass/fail option, or a generous curve, for all classes currently in progress,” Perez wrote in the petition.
In an e-blast sent to the student body on March 23, the pass/fail grading system will be implemented for the spring 2020 semester. Students will be permitted to file an electronic form until May 4 to choose between the pass/fail or letter grade option for each of their classes.
In most cases, students who choose the pass/fail option must maintain a grade of a D or higher to receive a “pass” grade, which has no impact on a student’s GPA, while “fail” grades will carry 0.00 points toward the total GPA.
The pass-fail system is not an option for everyone, however. Graduate students and certain undergraduate students taking accredited programs may not be eligible.
Kayla Tozzi, a senior nutrition and food science major, falls into this category of students.
“I’m in an accredited program, so I don’t think I will be able to use the pass-fail [grading system],” Tozzi said. “I apply to dietetic internships and a lot of those programs want letter grades.”
Tozzi created a petition titled, “Do NOT cancel Montclair State University Graduation due to COVID-19!” and another petition was created by student, Savannah Costa, titled “Compensate Housing and Meal Plan fees for Montclair State University Students.” Both have continued to gain signatures.
According to an e-blast from the university’s administration, commencement and convocation ceremonies have been postponed. The university has yet to decide the new dates.
As for refunds, Montclair State has decided to give prorated refunds for room and board, dining plans and for parking permits. The refunds will only be for the period of time students could not use their housing, dining or parking starting from Monday, March 23.
Of the other petitions circulating, a petition for a universal passing grade was created by Peter Zezas, a senior dual major in communication and media arts and theatre. He believes there is a stigma between choosing between pass/fail and a letter grade.
“That stigma will fall on socioeconomic lines. The students without internet access, stable housing or food security may be forced to choose pass/fail because of their situation,” Zezas wrote on his petition.
Zezas believes that if everyone has a “pass” on their transcript, rather than just a few students, it would make grading more fair.
“Having a ‘P’ on your transcript, instead of a letter grade, is detrimental in terms of someone looking at your transcript,” Zezas said.
Feeling some mutual agreement with Zezas’s argument, Perez explained that she thought the universal pass would have been better for this time, but since it was not being implemented at other schools, she was doubtful it would have been implemented at Montclair State.
“I actually think that the universal pass system may have been more beneficial, and I was just seeing that it wasn’t playing out at most universities and other places are sticking to pass/fail,” Perez said.
Jay Laboy, a senior art education major, feels that students have more to worry about than just grades during this time.
all of us are trying to figure out how to make ends meet for our
classes and make our grades good enough to pass [classes],” Laboy said. “I’m from Newark and right now I’m in the middle of a [COVID-19] hotspot… I’m
more nervous about that than my classes, to be real with you.”