Since remote learning continues to create challenges for students, a petition was created to take classes pass/fail again this semester. The Educational Policy Committee voted "no" in their recommendation to Provost Nathan Urban on whether the university should offer students the option. (Courtesy of Change.org)

Educational Policy Committee recommends against pass/fail grading option

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As students enter the second half of the spring 2021 semester, the question of implementing a pass/fail option for final grades is back up for debate. 

Beth Dolan, interim dean of the College of Health, serves on the university’s Educational Policy Committee, which provides a recommendation to Provost Nathan Urban on whether or not to offer a pass/fail option. According to Dolan, the committee has voted “no” in their recommendation to Urban this semester. 

Dolan said she recognizes the pass/fail option appropriately acknowledges the circumstances students are facing during this time. She expressed concerns with offering pass/fail grading for a third semester, however. 

Having been introduced at the pandemic’s onset in spring 2020, this would mark the third semester in a row students could opt for pass/fail grading, if the option were to be approved. 

Her biggest concern lies in students’ future after college. She said students who choose pass/fail grading for their classes now will face challenges if they decide to apply to graduate schools later on.

“If a student has chosen a year and a half of the pass/fail option, almost half of their education here at Lehigh will be like a black box to graduate and professional schools,” Dolan said. 

A circulating petition in favor of the pass/fail option has received over 700 signatures as of March 31. Although the petition has received significant support, it has seen less traction than last semester’s petition

Students have a range of opinions on the success of the pass/fail option and whether it should be implemented again this semester. 

For Shoshanna Victor, ‘23, a pass/fail option is a reminder to professors that there are students who are facing an immense amount of stress in their lives right now. 

“We are each in different circumstances and pretending our academics are uniform and worth the same magnitude as when in person is unrealistic,” Victor said. 

Because Victor hopes to pursue medical school following her Lehigh undergraduate studies, she has elected to not make any of her classes pass/fail. Despite this, she believes that a pass/fail option is the fairest way to recognize the difficulties the pandemic has posed.  

Esha Soni, ‘24, said the pass/fail option is something students should only utilize in extreme situations. 

“It is a good safety net to have in case something comes up with my family or me,” Soni said. 

Some students have also made the argument that learning through Zoom is still a difficult way to retain information and stay engaged in the classroom. With a majority of classes continuing to be held remotely this semester, students see the pass/fail option as the fair way to account for the hindrance of online learning. 

Lehigh’s graduate school has never offered the pass/fail option to students, and instead has asked faculty to adjust coursework and grading to reflect the circumstances at hand.

In an email sent out to graduate students last spring, Lehigh noted that offering a pass/fail option to graduate students would create “ambiguity about the competencies achieved when applying for licensure, certification, or continued graduate education.”

Dolan hopes students take time to think about how choosing the pass/fail option can impact them in their long-term endeavors after graduating from Lehigh. 

The official decision is set to be made by Urban in the coming weeks. For students and faculty alike, this decision will greatly impact the way  the last few weeks of the semester are handled.

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