By Haley Hersey, Staff Writer

COVID-19 continues to present new academic challenges and difficulties for students, especially students at USM. The pandemic resulted in modalities of classes to change from how they were originally posted when students signed up for classes. For many, the new modalities of their classes were not compatible with their learning styles. The switch to Zoom and online classes remains a struggle for many students, and thus a wish for an adapted pass/fail option for the fall semester arose. 

Last semester USM offered a student-selected pass/fail grading option after classes were disrupted 7-8 weeks into the semester. However, no such option was presented at the beginning of the fall semester.

Emily Skvorak, the senior USM student responsible for starting the petition to allow USM students to select a pass/fail option for their courses after seeing letter grades, said in regards to the protest:

“I decided to start a petition because nearly everyone I have talked to that attends USM expressed that they have been under immense stress this semester, that it has been the worst semester ever, or that their grades are not consistent with what they usually are because of the unusual circumstances the pandemic has brought about. Many of my friends have dropped classes because of the difficulty that online learning presents even though dropping those classes will prevent them from graduating ‘on time.’”

To draw attention and traction to her petition, Skvorak shared the petition with various sports teams, USM-affiliated Facebook and Instagram pages, along with the USM Presidential Cabinet and on social media platforms. 

According to Skvorak, another reason to have student-selected pass/fail grades this semester is, “a lot of students are likely dealing with higher levels of stress than usual due to loss of socialization opportunities and activities, working during a pandemic, and maybe even getting sick with COVID or having someone in their household who has.”

Having had no prior experience in advocacy work such as this, Skvorak was pleased to have not encountered any backlash. Her efforts have been met with support from students and faculty alike. One of her main concerns is how many students are reliant upon financial aid and in order to remain enrolled, yet financial aid is usually dependent on GPA. 

In addition to GPAs being included in the determination of financial aid, many classes this semester have been switched to fully online, and thus, students are not getting the course experiences they paid for.

Skvorak shared, “I think that the pass/fail option would lift a major weight off of many of our shoulders and allow us to end the semester on a good note.” 

Following the release of Emily’s petition, USM is now allowing students to obtain student-selected pass/fail grades for the Fall 2020 semester. The deadline for requesting such a grade is January 28, 2021. 

Students interested in utilizing the pass/fail option this semester would need to meet with their professional or faculty advisor. The decision to switch to a pass/fail grade cannot be made until final grades are released. Fall 2020 Pass/Fail Option information is available from the Office of the Provost. For anyone interested in viewing the petition, view: USM Pass/Fail Grades Petition.

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