Op-Ed: Let WashU Students Count P/F Classes Towards Major/Graduation Requirements

Ashlee Chung, Rory Vu Mather and Sophie Scott | Class of 2020, Master’s Candidate and Class of 2021

Click Here for Petition

On March 11, 2020, Washington University in St. Louis administration emailed all students instructing them not to return to campus due to the recent developments of COVID-19. Students who opted to stay on campus for spring break were only given 4 days to move out. Now, the U.S. is under a national state of emergency, with cities such as Westchester, N.Y. and Bay Area, Calif. under strict quarantine.

While we understand the initial urge to allow decisions made on a departmental basis, we the students are left to not only juggle the emotional and financial burden of this pandemic but also continue to excel in our academics. We need an equitable policy that supports all students, regardless of major.

All classes switched to online platforms and many final exams, including all ArtSci and Engineering classes, will be conducted online. Because many of us were out of town, students were not able to gather our books, computers, school supplies, etc.

The current grading policy is inequitable and disproportionately affects students from under-resourced backgrounds, international students, low-income students and students with academic accommodations. Many students are unable to work, family incomes are drying up, lack of capability to obtain reliable access to the internet and other unexpected home responsibilities (i.e. applying for jobs, maintaining the household, taking care of siblings or family members). Furthermore, this pandemic especially impacts our international student population who have no permanent home in the U.S. and make up more than 22% of our student population (WUSTL Fall 2018 Demographic Data).

We, the Wash. U. student body, ask that Wash. U. provide students the options to 1) transition to emergency pass/fail grading that would qualify towards major/graduation requirements or 2) maintain receiving letter grades for the semester.

We ask that all classes taken P/F count towards:

1. Major/minor requirements

2. General requirements for all schools: College of Arts & Sciences, McKelvey School of Engineering, Olin Business School, Sam Fox School of Art and Architecture, with credits taken this semester not counting toward any P/F caps

3. Undergraduate and graduate (master’s and Ph.D.) graduation requirements

Many universities across the nation have already decided to switch to a P/F structure, including MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Vanderbilt University, Smith College, Grinnell College, Middlebury College and George Washington University.

Other universities have similar student petitions asking for the same policy, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia/Barnard University, Duke University, New York University, Rice University, Tulane University, Florida International University and Michigan State University.

When we started this semester, each of us chose classes with specific expectations such as the following: taught in-person by instructor; personally conduct our own labs and studio assignments; access to in-person office hours and review sessions, in-person AI hours; access to in-person academic resources such as Cornerstone academic accommodations, residential tutors, the Writing Center, and so forth.

Looking at the inaccessibility of these essential resources coupled with the volatility of new class structures, we believe that students should have the option to make these classes P/F.

We also believe that the new P/F grading policy should be optional so that students concerned about letter grades for future education (i.e. medical school, law school and other graduate programs) or other reasons can have the option to maintain the current grading scale.

We all chose Wash. U. not because it is a great school, but because it is an amazing community full of people who help us achieve our goals and succeed in our academics. Now that we must move forward without this integral community, we ask that Wash. U. change their current policies to be equitable and provide all students the opportunity to succeed, not just for students with readily available access to resources and an optimum learning environment. By signing this petition, let Wash. U. administration hear your voice and help advocate for your fellow Wash. U. peers who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.