Pass/Fail option now offered to students

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By: Max Lorber, Arts and Culture Editor

USM is now offering a pass/fail option for all undergraduate and graduate courses for the Spring semester. This unusual policy decision was reached this past week in response to the social and economic upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

All core courses changed to pass/fail will now count toward a degree, if the student receives a passing grade; however, some courses changed to pass/fail may not count towards a student’s major or minor. 

In an email obtained by the Free Press to all USM faculty members and academic advisors, Provost Jeannine Uzzi said, “I have recommended to students that they consult with a faculty member in their major or with an academic advisor before making the decision to change a course to pass/fail.”

The deadline for declaring a pass/fail grade, or to withdraw from a course, was pushed back to April 20. Students interested in taking a pass/fail grade for a course are recommended to confirm with faculty advisors and professors whether that course will be counted toward their major or minor with a pass/fail grade. After learning all pertinent information regarding the guidelines for a specific course, if a student decides to take the pass/fail option, they can contact the university Registrar, Karin Pires ([email protected]), with their name, student ID number, and the name of courses they are changing to pass/fail.

A form has also been sent out to students to be filled out if they are choosing to take the pass/fail option for a course. 

“The form will ask students to speak with coaches about their athletic eligibility and to consider the GPA requirements of any external scholarships they may have before making the change,” Provost Uzzi said.

Following the lead of other universities around the country, USM scrambled to prevent the potential spread of Covid-19 on campus, and to accommodate students during these extreme circumstances. Students were told to vacate the dorms in Gorham, classes were shifted online, Spring Break was extended for two days, and this unusual grading policy was introduced to help take pressure off of students, some of whom are currently facing a variety of challenges.

“This has partly to do with moving online, but also with the fact that people’s lives have been upended in all manner of ways that could compromise their ability to do the work or finish the course,” said Jane Kuenz, Professor and Associate Dean for the School of Business.

Here is a breakdown of the pass/fail grading system: Grades A to C- will be marked as either High Performance (H) or Pass (P). Grades D+ to D- will be marked as Low Performance (LP). Anything lower will be marked F, and will not count as credit. For graduate courses, A+ to A- is an H grade, B+ to B- is a P grade, C- to C+ is an LP grade, D+ and below is an F grade.

If a course is changed to pass/fail, a student’s GPA will not be affected by a passing grade. This will be helpful for students who have experienced a downturn in their academic abilities and do not want that reflected in their overall GPA. But, if a student is hoping to bolster their GPA for their resume or a graduate school application, an H   or P grade will not help.

Provost Uzzi said that the decision to offer pass/fail grades was recommended by Daniel P Malloy, Chancellor of the University of Maine System. She and University President Glenn Cummings supported the idea, and it was voted on by the Core Curriculum Committee. However, this was not a blanket policy for all departments.

“Once the decision was in place, it was up to the academic Deans and the faculty to figure out exactly how we would implement this at USM,” Provost Uzzi said.

According to several department chairs, faculty members and college deans, individual departments deliberated on how they were to implement a pass/fail grading system.

“The role of the administration in the development of a temporary [solution] has been limited in many respects at USM,” Adam Tuchinsky, Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. “The real story here is the faculty.”

Tuchinksy said that each department is responsible for their own curriculum, which gives them power to decide whether to accept a pass/fail grade toward a major. Most departments, considering the extreme circumstances many students are facing, are accepting pass/fail grades towards a major or minor. 

“In my lifetime there has never been a situation even close to this,” Tuchinksy said. “This situation, in short, is very different from an extended snow day.”

USM is one of many universities throughout the country that have suddenly moved all classes online and offered some form of an extended pass/fail policy.

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