NYU Schools Update Pass/Fail Policies in Response to Coronavirus

Several NYU schools are offering expanded pass/fail options for students in response to concerns surrounding the transition to remote instruction.

The COVID-19 crisis has left students wondering about the rest of their spring academic semester. Most NYU schools are currently offering students the option to request to pass/fail their classes up until May 12th. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

Some undergraduate students can now choose to pass/fail Spring 2020 courses and still count them towards degree requirements, as several school deans have announced in response to potential performance shortfalls brought by the transition to remote learning.

“We recognize the unfamiliar challenges that students may encounter in a remote learning environment and the ways in which this might amplify pressures we are all feeling,” an email from Liberal Studies Dean Julie Mostov read.

Remote instruction has raised concerns spanning from wifi accessibility, to lack of a quiet place to participate in classes, to confusion regarding how to transition lab or project-based courses to Zoom. Additional worries include professors ill at ease with the video conferencing platform and students being distracted by the emotional tolls of the ever-evolving pandemic, all of which may negatively impact students’ grades.

All schools have extended the deadline to petition for pass/fail to May 12. And while most have adopted policies allowing for all courses to be taken pass/fail and still count towards degree requirements, each school’s updated policy is different.

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Tandon School of Engineering noted that even if a student opts for pass/fail, they may still need to receive a letter grade to move onto a higher-level course. Steinhardt has extended the deadline to petition for pass/fail from the ninth week of the term to May 12, but has not updated its limit on how many courses students can take per semester using this grading system.

Gallatin School of Individualized Study decided that students’ senior projects must still be given a letter grade. The College of Arts and Science is limiting students to two pass/fail courses, which can count towards core requirements or degree electives, but not core degree courses. 

The enhanced policies come after the Executive Committee of the Student Government Assembly met with the Office of the Provost and NYU administration on Wednesday, March 18 to address student concerns in the face of coronavirus, as reported by NYU Local.

Following the meeting, SGA issued a statement announcing that students should expect emails from their school’s deans by this week at the latest. At the time of publication, the School of Professional Studies is the only undergraduate school that has not yet announced updates to its pass/fail policy. 

Tandon sophomore Tripp Fuentes guessed that he will end up pass/failing one or more courses this semester and that the option was necessary to allow students to finish out the semester.

“I feel I’m not going to get the full experience, and whatever grade that I get isn’t accurate to the performance I could have had if we didn’t have to go home, if we didn’t have to do classes over Zoom,” Fuentes said. “In terms of pass/failing, I feel it’s just to get it over with, just move on to the next semester.”

But not all students feel these revised policies have done enough, including GLS sophomore Parker Grove, who feels that NYU should have followed the example of universities like Columbia and Duke University, which made pass/fail mandatory for all students.

“I think it’s good that [NYU is] doing it, but I think other schools have a better approach to it making a blanket mandatory pass/fail for everything,” Grove said. “Although it may not allow students to raise their GPA, it is setting one standard that people aren’t going to be able to look better than others during this semester of confusion.”

And Grove is not alone in her thinking, some students have rallied in support of a Universal Pass System to overcome stigmas surrounding pass/fail which may prevent students from opting in, including concerns that pass/failing a course will hurt students when applying for competitive graduate programs or jobs. 

CAS sophomore Samuel Haecker isn’t currently planning on pass/failing any courses, but is grateful to have the semester to decide given that nobody knows how remote learning will evolve over time.

“It’s good that we have most of the semester to decide because most of us haven’t really experienced the complete breadth of online classes and the complete experience of them,” Haecker said. “So in a way, it is more useful that we have until the end of the semester to decide.”

GLS sophomore Erin Zubarik appreciated Liberal Studies offering the more generous pass/fail policy. 

“I still plan on not passing and failing, but I did see that email as the Liberal Studies school trying to accommodate students for the changes that are happening right now,” Zubarik said. “So I looked upon it in a good light.”

Email Emily Mason at [email protected]

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