Updated: STU senate approves pass/fail option for courses this semester

    (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

    The St. Thomas University senate has passed a motion that allows for professors to give students a pass or fail rather than receive letter grades. Bachelor of social work and bachelor of education students are exempt from this decision.

    As long as students have a 50 per cent in the course, they will pass, said STU’s vice-president academic, Kim Fenwick, who brought the motion to senate.

    But this does not mean the work done by students up until March 13 counts as their final mark. Rather, it’s up to each individual professor to decide whether marks up until a certain date will make up your grade, or if the work done until the end of the semester will count toward your grade.

    “I’ve already circulated information to faculty saying, ‘You can do that if you want to. You can grade your students based on what they’ve completed. You can change your syllabus. You can cut out assignments. You can modify assignments, as long as you don’t just disadvantage students,” said Fenwick.

    She said some professors might encourage students to complete their assignments for the term because they haven’t had enough assignments completed to pass students yet.

    Still, if a student requests to switch to the pass-fail system, the professor must comply. Students will also still be able to appeal their grades, even if they use the pass-fail system.

    Students will have until April 9 to let their professors know if they want to opt into the pass or fail system. If students don’t say anything to their professor, letter grades are the default option.

    STU has joined more than 40 per cent of universities across the country who are now offering pass-fail grades, said Fenwick.

    Fenwick said before this announcement, some students had already approached professors asking for a pass or fail mark and some have been approved.

    “However, some professors expressed concerns over fairness when some students have been granted a pass-fail grade due to hardship associated with the pandemic without offering the same option to all students who are similarly affected but have not complained.”

    She said opting into a pass or fail system won’t affect scholarship holders. Students’ GPA will be based on letter grades only.

    In addition, she said concerns have been raised by students who are applying to graduate programs that they may need letter grades to be competitive with other applicants. She said although the university cannot guarantee no negative implications, she said a one-semester grade or a pass shouldn’t have any impact on admission decisions.

    “Now that universities across the country and in the United States are using pass-fail in large numbers, I suspect that adjustments to regular admission requirements will be made for graduate programs and professional programs.”

    Honours students who have specific requirements for their thesis and prerequisites for honours programs will have to wait for a decision by their specific department. The department will either waive letter grade requirements or they will inform prospective and current honours students they should not opt into the pass-fail system, but the final decision hasn’t been made yet.

    Official transcripts will not be changed to show the reason for the pass or fail grades, but the registrar will include a letter with each requested transcript to state the university was reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic at the time and a pass-fail system was a “standard option” for all courses.

    St. Thomas University Students’ Union president, Husoni Raymond, said students have let him know that considering all the anxieties and changes to their work environment, they would prefer that all pass-fail grades be based on their marks as of the last day of in-person class, rather than just giving professors the option to do that.

    “I think that would be the optimal result for students. And if that’s not possible, ask professors to be flexible.”