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More than 7,800 people have signed an online petition posted March 20 requesting that UA officials change course grading to a pass or fail system after moving in-person classes online.

Presley Wilson, a sophomore, created the petition urging Chancellor Joe Steinmetz to change the grading system because she thinks students who enrolled in in-person classes face challenges with their new online courses.  She wanted to show officials that some students struggle with online learning, she said.

“I do completely 100% respect and admire our school for putting us online in order to keep their students safe,” Wilson said in an email. “That does not mean that learning this way is easy. The assignments I have done in the past week have taken me twice as long as before.”

The UA Faculty Senate is considering options to potentially change the grading system, UA Provost Jim Coleman said in a statement. The senate will give a recommendation and officials will issue a final decision as soon as possible after spring break. 

UA Student Body President Jared Pinkerton said he is in full support of the proposed change to a pass or fail system and is working with the Faculty Senate to pass such a policy.

Dave Bostwick, a teaching assistant professor for online journalism, thinks the sudden shift from on-campus classes is different from a true online course, he said in an email. Online classes are planned in advance and are usually delivered via pre-recorded lectures, but instructors now have to quickly find ways to change their content or meet remotely, Bostwick said.

Since Friday, approximately 7,814 people have signed the online petition, which has been shared on social media and in multiple group chats for Registered Student Organizations like UA Young Democrats, Dream B.I.G., and UA PRIDE. The signee goal is 10,000 and increases as the target is met.

Noah Black-Ocken, a senior, signed the petition and commented that students aren’t the only ones struggling with the shift to online classes. Black-Ocken thinks that many professors face challenges because they were not originally instructed on how to teach online, he said in a comment on the petition site. 

“This is not a knock on any of my instructors,” Black-Ocken said in an email. “I believe that they are doing their best with the circumstances that we’ve all been given.”

Dillon Conn, a freshman signed the petition because he struggles with online classes, he said in an email. He typically studies on campus because he gets too distracted at home. Conn has taken online classes before, but thinks they’re not as beneficial as in-person courses.

“I don’t feel like my GPA should suffer because of unforeseen circumstances,” Conn said. “I signed up for in-person classes because that gives me the best opportunity for success.”

Wilson thinks the switch to online courses is difficult without face-to-face interaction because she is a hands-on learner, she said. Wilson said she thinks changing the curriculum should also change professors’ expectations of students. 

“I have a computer and cell phone because it is mandatory for life nowadays, but I like to stick to pencil and paper,” Wilson said. “Having school online is doable, yes, but it is absolutely draining.   Above all I want what is best for the entire Razorback community.”

Conn thinks shifting to a pass-fail course would greatly ease his stress, he said. He wouldn’t have to worry about losing scholarships or a lower GPA, and it would give him time to focus on other important issues like his family and monitoring the coronavirus. 

“I 100% firmly believe that you should work for what you want,” Conn said. “But this situation really hurts students.”

Several other major universities are offering pass-fail grading options for spring classes 2020 in light of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The UA Little Rock Faculty Senate passed emergency legislation Friday allowing instructors to issue grades of credit or no credit for the remainder of the semester, according to UALR. Details of the policy will be released March 30.

The University of Oklahoma will allow students to choose to receive a pass or no-pass grade for any course to course this semester, according to an open letter to OU students from Senior Vice President and Provost Kyle Harper published Friday. The University of Pennsylvania will implement an identical policy, according to a message posted on the university’s website Friday.

Other schools implementing optional or mandatory pass or fail grading include Purdue University, Harvard Law School and University of California, Berkeley.


Tegan Shockley is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where she has been a staff reporter since 2017.

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