The coronavirus pandemic entered our lives with a whimper, but it has produced a bang unlike anything we’ve seen before.
In just days, rigorous safety precautions have been enacted nationwide in order to curb the spread of the virus to those most vulnerable. Life has suddenly changed for the thousands of students within our campus community, with health and housing concerns being added to the stockpile of worries facing them. To amend these worries, the University should consider amending its grading policy to a universal “pass-fail” system for the remainder of the Spring 2020 term.
COVID-19 has already upended many aspects of the day-to-day lives of students. And the stress it has placed on our lives is also without parallel. Those who lived in University Housing during this term are faced with the sudden order to pack up their belongings and return from where they came from. International students are challenged with the more daunting task of whether they will even be able to travel back to their home country, as international travel restrictions and cancelled flights increase by the day. Student employees, whether employed by the University or an off-campus business, are threatened by income shortages due to the mass shuttering of businesses during this time.
When students are confronted with a sudden demand to uproot their lives and return home, the University doing more to assist in the easing of class requirements would help many make the shift with greater ease.
Furthermore, the difficulties that result in an altered education environment should not be held against University students in their educational and professional lives. Professors are forced to adapt the remainder of their class’ curricula into digital mediums they did not originally anticipate utilizing when the semester started. This process will be a learning curve, albeit a difficult one, for both instructors and students to accept as the temporary norm.
Lectures aside, professors and teaching assistants will also face difficulty in finding how to organize not only their discussion sections, but the many labs and exams that are necessary for students to apply what they learn throughout the course. Even the simple act of going to a professor’s office hours is impaired, and now replaced, with the University email system. We all joined the University community hoping to enrich ourselves with knowledge that will follow us into our professional lives. But if the very idea of the University community is taken from us and replaced with our laptop screens, it becomes difficult to fully contribute one’s acquired learning back to the University and the public as a whole.
This shift in grading is not without precedent. As CNN reports, top-tier schools such as MIT, Northwestern and the City Universities of New York have all embraced this grading style to match the extraordinary situation facing their collective student bodies. Recently, Harvard has allowed for many of its degree programs to partially or fully adopt the pass-fail system. Universities should be wholly motivated to ensure their students are fully prepared for a competitive jobs market once they receive their diploma. If the University of Wisconsin wants to uphold its high status as a Public Ivy school, it should adopt the tactics of similarly ranked schools to meet the crisis at hand.
The coronavirus crisis is placing an undue, unwanted and unprecedented burden on the lives of both professors and students in our University community. Were the University to simplify the grading scheme to a pass-fail system, students will be free of the worry that the consequences of this emergency will be a permanent stain on their academic record as they continue with their studies or prepare for life after college.
Blake Weiner ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.