By Stephen Neukam
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to alter life at the university, Rider adopted a measure that will allow students to choose a pass/no credit option for their spring semester courses after a University Academic Policy Committee (UAPC) vote on March 31.
The passing option, which is available for any grade of a C or higher, will count toward a student’s graduation requirement, while the no credit option will not count toward graduation requirements. Neither option will be calculated for the semester or cumulative GPA.
Students will have between May 12 and May 29 to choose an option for each class grade. Their decisions will be permanent.
The policy is another show of flexibility from the university as its faculty, staff and students attempt to transition to remote instruction after the school decided to discontinue in-person classes for the remainder of the semester.
The university’s vote followed an online petition on Change.org urging Rider to adopt the pass/no credit provision. As of March 31, the petition was signed by over 1,600 people.
The petition outlined the difficulties facing both instructors and students, including the fact that some professors are not familiar or comfortable with running an online course, some students live in different time zones that make it difficult to stay in stride with their coursework and some may not have access to essential forms of technology used for remote instruction.
“For these reasons and others, the administration should allow the courses to be graded as a pass-fail grading structure this semester,” read the petition. “This way, a student’s GPA will not suffer when under normal circumstances. They would have been higher taking the same class and relieving some of the stress that has come with dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, including housing, finances, supplies and staying healthy. It is unfair to expect that all students can learn the same, many students cannot learn properly from an online course.”
Sophomore criminal justice major Samantha Sachatelli signed the petition and empathizes with students who are not accustomed to online learning. She implored the university to be as flexible as possible for students.
“No one asked for this virus, but it is something we all need to deal with. I know many students, including myself, are not online learners,” said Sachatelli. “It is easier for some people to be in a classroom and have the professor right in front of you. I think pass or fail classes are important because we didn’t sign up for online classes. We are just dealing with what comes our way. It is not fair to make the students suffer on top of the anxiety and stress we already have from being home in such a monumental time period.”
Sachatelli also said she wished that the university would waive GPA requirements for the spring semester.
The vote was made possible after the UAPC, the committee of academic governance between the university administration and Rider’s American Association of University Professors union, altered its usual protocols for considering proposals. Typically, the committee allowed for 60 calendar days to consider a vote. The administration and representatives from each college came to an agreement to expedite the process because of its urgency.
Diane Campbell, an associate professor, librarian and the chair of the UAPC, said that the pass/no credit measure was received “very favorably” by the committee and passed comfortably after significant work on the wording of the policy.
“People’s lives are really chaotic right now,” said Campbell. “We wanted the students to have a way to respond to their individual circumstances.”
Campbell also realized the difficulties the switch to remote instruction poses for instructors and the frantic atmosphere that the transition has created.
“What we’re doing now is not online classes,” said Campbell. “What we’re doing now is we’re putting material online and making adjustments. When you design an online course…the structure is completely different so [this] is our best attempt at something sort of like [online classes].”
Campbell was not aware of the online petition until her phone interview with The Rider News.
Associate Professor Michael Brogan, who previously served as Rider’s chapter of AAUP president, also voiced support for the measure.
“As proposed, this new academic policy should help students manage multiple personal and academic commitments in this uncertain time.,” said Brogan. “Though it’s unclear how this policy change impacts student learning and academic outcomes, I do think it’s the right thing to do at this moment.”