Pass/fail grading needs to return

AB Boyd | Cartoonist

In a near-unanimous vote, Student Senate passed a bill Thursday to introduce an option for pass/fail grading. The bill is very similar to the pass/fail policy used in the spring, only now with the limitation of being able to pick up to three classes to convert to pass or fail. Now the final decision to implement or not to implement is in the hands of the provost’s office, and there’s a number of reasons why Baylor should act on this request to reintroduce pass/fail grading.

First and most obvious: we’re still living in a pandemic. The fall semester was not marked by the same sudden upheaval that came with canceling in-person classes midway through the spring semester. However, despite Baylor’s efforts, life is still far from being back to normal. Many students and professors alike dealt with a mixture of online, hybrid and in-person classes and experienced varying degrees of success adapting to these formats.

The university has recorded nearly 1,500 COVID-19 cases since Aug. 1, the vast majority being students. Aside from the well-documented medical risks, each case is a student who must then isolate for at least 10 days, and each case ensnares close contacts who are also asked to quarantine for 14 days and monitor symptoms to prevent further spread of the virus. It’s incredibly easy for a student’s life to be temporarily derailed without warning, and some of the unluckier students have experienced this multiple times.

The fall semester also flew by at a blistering pace. Thirteen weeks, Monday through Friday, with no Labor Day, no fall break and class all the way up to the day before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day — in week 14 of the semester — is the first university-wide holiday from class since the fall semester started. The condensed schedule was designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but a side effect is that it’s left little time to breathe over the past three months.

When Provost Nancy Brickhouse announced the pass/fail grading option for the spring, she called it a “recognition” of “many unprecedented circumstances for Baylor University’s students, faculty and staff.”

Now in November, the Baylor community is faced with somewhat different but equally unprecedented circumstances.

In debating the Student Senate bill, Fair Oaks junior senator Addison Knight said she didn’t know any students working at full capacity amid pandemic-related stress, and Little Rock, Ark., sophomore senator Ginger Gordon said pass/fail grading “allows [students] to reprioritize their health.”

Implementing Student Senate’s pass/fail policy would throw a lifeline to students burdened by a myriad of stressors chipping away at their academic and mental well-being. This solution is not unprecedented, and Baylor would not be alone.

Schools across the country like the University of Southern California and the University of Maine have already announced pass/fail grading for the fall. Closer to home, the University of Texas at Austin’s Faculty Council passed a resolution Monday for a pass/fail option, which is now only waiting for approval from the president and provost.

Baylor should follow the request of the Student Senate and the example of other universities with similar policies. This fall semester has been anything but normal, and students need and deserve some grace. A pass/fail grading option is the way to deliver.