Students advocate for pass/fail classes to fulfill majors

A student petition with over 1,000 signatures has asked the University to allow pass/fail grading to count toward major requirements during the pandemic.


Image by Nur B. Adam

Zayna Jan poses for a portrait in front of a list of signatories on a petition she authored, which seeks to change the grading policy change in the School of Dentistry on Sunday, Oct. 18.

by Hana Ikramuddin and Katelyn Vue

The University of Minnesota Senate Committee on Educational Policy (SCEP) recommended Wednesday that all undergraduate classes on the Twin Cities campus include a pass/fail option that would count toward degree completion, following a recent petition created by a dental student that garnered more than a 1,000 signatures.

Zayna Jan, a second-year dental student, wrote the petition after discussions with other dental students about the need for all students to have the pass/fail grading option as the pandemic continues.

SCEP discussed the petition over two meetings. Executive Vice President and Provost Rachel Croson, who will make the final decision, asked the committee to advise her on her response to the petition.

According to an Oct. 13 email from Vice Provost and Dean Robert McMaster, the deadline for undergraduate students to switch a course to pass/fail grading was extended into late October. The email also advised students to be cautious about credit restrictions when selecting a grading basis and reminded students that pass/fail grades do not count toward major requirements.

Student advocacy

Jan said she started the petition because the University’s dental school requires students to have in-person lab hours. But with limited availability to schedule and reserve lab times, it can be more difficult to meet those requirements.

“It was honestly for a dental school reason, and then I got so many signatures — more than I anticipated,” Jan said. “Reading the testimonials, I realized this has become something a lot bigger than just the School of Dentistry and that programs deserve to have it.”

A group of dental students also helped provide Jan with feedback and spread awareness about the petition. The petition asks for pass/fail grading to be available during the pandemic and that classes taken pass/fail meet major requirements.

Kami Hogan, a second-year dental student, said dental students experience added challenges alternating between online learning and in-person lab on top of the stressors of a pandemic. She also helped Jan with the petition.

“[It’s a] completely different environment and a different way of learning for everybody,” Hogan said. Having the option of pass/fail grading for dental students during COVID-19 would alleviate some stress, she added.

Hogan said she lost her dad a couple of months ago and has been dealing with health issues.

“I’m dealing with a lot while trying to get everything done with school and trying to adapt to this new system,” Hogan said. “This would have been hard anyways, whether COVID was in place or not … but the fact that COVID is adding even more to that is making it more challenging.”

The Minnesota Student Association passed a resolution with a 50-3 vote to have the option to transition into a pass/fail grading basis that would count toward degree completion for all fall 2020 classes.

Matthew Croft, MSA academic affairs director, and MSA President Amy Ma, co-authored the resolution. Croft was present at the SCEP meeting last week along with Jan.

“We deserve the ability to be able to prioritize our health and safety and security over our grades if that’s what we have to do,” Croft said. “I don’t feel that students should be penalized for making that decision to prioritize their own well-being.”

Jan said she probably sent over 800 emails to undergraduate and professional students to spread the word about the petition. Signatures on the petition are mainly from undergraduate students but also medical, law, pharmacy, dental and nursing school students.

Jan is also working with campus disability advocates, including the Critical Disability Studies Collective to get feedback on the petition.

Faculty response

While some faculty expressed support for increased access to pass/fail grading, others are worried about how students with pass/fail classes on their transcript will be viewed by admission teams at potential graduate schools or other higher learning institutions.

“I think as we get further into this semester, we’re getting more worried about students and their … physical and mental health,” McMaster said.

While faculty are sympathetic to the financial and emotional pressures students are facing, the University still must maintain high academic standards, McMaster said.

The petition to sign in support of pass/fail grading is still available, and the number of signatures continues to grow.

“I think a lot of students feel alone in this, and online learning is a sink or swim situation,” Jan said. “Now because I’ve started this, I want to end this the right way for everybody, and I — as much as it would benefit me — I know it would benefit a lot of other people a lot more.”