The USC administration gave its final veto Nov. 11 to requests to extend the pass/no pass deadline until after Fall 2020 grades have been released, according to the Undergraduate Student Government.
The veto came after USG released a statement on Nov. 9 urging the administration to reconsider the deadline for students to change a course grading option from a letter grade to pass/no pass and after nearly 4,000 students signed a change.org petition asking for the deadline to be extended. In the statement, the USG Senate offered its support for the petition, which was authored by student Catherine Turner, and argued that the difficulties of an online semester have not allowed students to succeed like they might be able to during a typical, in-person semester.
USG Senator Alexis Areis said USG posted the statement on Instagram hoping it would give the petition a final push before the last day of classes. Rather than attempting to pass a resolution in support of the extension, USG opted for a social media statement due to the quickly approaching last day of class.
“We had well over a thousand signatures in that first day alone, just from posting that statement, so it definitely did have the intended reach, which was great,” Areis said. “Unfortunately, the administration did not decide to move forward with making that change.”
This was not the first petition to circulate this semester regarding pass/no pass. On Oct. 3, an initial petition amassed almost 6,000 signatures requesting that the university allow all students the chance to change any course to be graded pass/no pass. In response, the Office of the Provost announced on Oct. 14 that students could opt for a pass/no pass grading option until Nov. 13, the last day of class.
Many students, including those in USG, said this deadline is not adequate for student needs.
Melissa Tungare, a junior majoring in linguistics and Chinese, said that the administration’s refusal to extend the pass/no pass deadline demonstrates a neglect for students' mental health.
“I’ve lost family members due to COVID and I think … most of us have been pretty close to the effects of COVID and you never know what’s gonna happen next week,” Tungare said. “What if you get COVID during finals and then you fail your finals, but you would have had no idea that that would have happened to you, like a week before? I think it’s so inconsiderate considering the scale that COVID’s happening on.”
Since the pass/no pass option for this semester was announced, USG Chair of the Committee on Academic Affairs Katelyn Lee said USG has had several conversations with the administration regarding a further extension. In their most recent conversation on Nov. 11, the administration declined the extension because it wanted to maintain the structure of the grading system and felt that students had already adjusted to the disruption of the pandemic and the shift to online learning, Lee said.
Lee said that despite already knowing students were struggling, “hear[ing] those personal stories was very difficult.” She said many students shared the difficulties they faced this semester due to housing insecurity, Wi-Fi access, the Irvine fires and the general context of having a shortened semester with no breaks.
Many believed that having the deadline before final grades are released would prevent them from making an informed decision on whether or not they should change their grading option, Lee said. Students also expressed frustrations with a lack of mental health resources and flexibility from instructors.
Last spring, when students were initially sent home to complete the semester online, the administration allowed students to opt for pass/no pass after receiving their final grades, citing the challenges presented by COVID-19 and easing the academic pressure of completing a semester remotely.
But cases this semester have been higher than they were at the end of last school year, when students and faculty scrambled to adjust to the pandemic and the switch to “Zoom University.” As of Nov. 11, over 10.5 million coronavirus cases have been reported in the United States, with 242,196 deaths. Cases have been on a steady rise since October.
Emanuel Rodriguez, a sophomore majoring in communication who signed the petition, pointed out the rise in cases and said he believes this semester has been different from the last.
“The circumstances for even just the semester are quite different. I mean, we’re doing an entire semester online rather than just half of the semester like we did in Spring 2020,” Rodriguez said. “On top of that, there’s also been so much election stress, so much news. Cases are rising right now. There’s been a lot more like personal impact on everyone—we’ve been sort of displaced.”
On Nov. 10, USG asked students to submit feedback via a Google form on how the pandemic has impacted their online learning this fall semester and what difference extending the deadline would have on them. Areis said they wanted to use that feedback to guide their efforts in presenting student concerns to the administration.
“This seems to fit into grind culture and everyone has to work hard despite their mental health. USC claims to care a lot about mental health and I know a lot of individual professors and people at USC who do, but I think as an institution they have a long way to go before they actually show that they care about their students,” Tungare said.
Next semester, students will be able to select the pass/no pass option through April 30, the last day of Spring 2021 classes.
While USG and student may have used up their luck on getting the university to budge on extending the pass/no pass deadline, Lee said that because USC is looking towards a third semester on a pass/no pass system, USG’s next step is to advocate for an increase in the amount of units that can be taken pass/no pass.
“For upperclassmen who have been at USC for so long and might have already used those units, but now face struggles during these remote semesters, they’re at a disadvantage because they’re not going to have enough remaining units to help cover them and ensure that we can protect their mental health during this academic stress,” Lee said.
Regardless of the outcome on the latest push for accommodations amid the pandemic, both USG senators expressed gratitude toward what Areias called “the massive mobilization of students.”
“Even though I don’t think it’s the responsibility of students to have to ask administration for this, I am really thankful to see how much students have mobilized support,” Lee said. “It’s really made my job easier to try to demonstrate to the administration how important this is because I am one student and my opinion can only mean so much, but having a petition is just an easy way to show the numbers of support. I think that was really awesome and I give a lot of credit to [Turner].”