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Pass failure: University says no to pass/fail option amid COVID-19 semester

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OSU President Burns Hargis watching the conference on Tuesday, September 1st, at the McKnight Center at OSU.

Oklahoma State sophomore Ashton Caufield didn’t sign up for this.

Daily Zoom classes, masks around campus, and the constant worry of potentially catching the novel coronavirus can easily drive up stress levels and impact grades. 

Despite this, she –– and thousands of other OSU students –– are expected to carry on as if nothing changed.

“Most students are struggling with online classes and professors aren’t doing anything to alleviate the stress,” sophomore Ashton Caufield said. “They’re teaching their classes like everything is normal.”

University officials, however, don't share this line of thinking.

In a statement obtained by The O’Colly, OSU Provost Gary Sandefur announced that the university will not switch to a pass/no pass option this semester despite doing so in spring 2020.

“We do not have plans to switch to this option at this time,” Sandefur said. “Last spring during an unprecedented health crisis, we made an emergency decision to move classes fully online and to grant a pass/no pass grading policy for the spring semester. We have approached the fall semester quite differently, with a planned approach to academic delivery and other protocols to support student success.”

This decision came in response to a student-created petition that garnered over 3,800 signatures in just three weeks. OSU student and petition creator Lacey Hickey started the movement because of the mental health impacts of a pandemic-filled semester.

“I’m saddened by the outcome but certainly not surprised,” Hickey said. “This semester (OSU) has shown their students that they’re just a monetary value to them. Our campus is hurting and it doesn’t seem like the administration cares. OSU dropped the ball on academic accommodations, physical and mental health support and the basic compassion that we as students once knew.”

Some experts on this topic side with students like Hickey and Caufield.

In a recent study from the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, researchers encouraged universities to continue the pass/fail option and other accommodations during COVID-19.

But sentiments like this aren’t unanimous across the student body. Some OSU students view pass/no pass as an “easy way out” and something that may negatively impact their future.

“I think the pass/fail option is negative, because it gives people an out for not having to go to class as much. It doesn’t look good on transcripts when getting into a masters program if they decide to choose a pass/fail option in their classes,” said OSU senior Aaron DeVries.

While masters programs and graduate school could be impacted, some argue that many professional job recruiters will be lenient when looking at the COVID-19 semester.

“I think grades are very important,” OSU marketing professor Jerry Rackley said. “In industry, in the hiring I’ve done, I’ve never looked at a transcript. I see a resume, I see an application and I certainly pay attention to their GPA. The other truth to this is that the GPA is kind of like a pass/fail itself. You see a number and you’re like ‘oh, I have no problem with that.’ Or you look at one and you’re like ‘oh, I have a problem with that’ and you’re either going to dismiss a candidate without an evaluation or you’re going to ask a candidate about it.

“I think there is lots of understanding in both academia and the business world where they understand that the entire world is dealing with the circumstances with COVID.”

In fact, O’Colly received statements from five major companies that heavily recruit OSU students and every single employee said that they don’t look at transcripts during the hiring process.

“In my experience, candidates are forthcoming about things like that,”  Jamie Forte, a talent recruiter at Ferguson plumbing supplies said of transcripts and potential class failures. “It has only happened maybe once that I can remember where a student we made an offer to ended up not graduating due to failing a class. He let us know about it, thankfully. That would be the only case where a transcript would have been handy, but it’s not realistic to collect them all.”