Fordham Students Petition for a Pass/ Fail Policy for the Fall 2021 Semester

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Fordham students advocate for a pass/fail to be implemented in the Fall 2021 semester (Courtesy of Unsplash).

Abbey Delk, News Editor

In the last month, a petition calling for Fordham University to implement a pass/fail option in its grading policy has begun to circulate among the student body on social media.

The petition, which was posted on Change.org, outlines concerns over the mental health toll that the transition back to in-person classes and activities this semester has caused Fordham students.

“The transition from online to in-person classes has proven to be a source of great stress on the student body at Fordham,” the petition states. “Although we understand a transition period is to be expected, and that Fordham University and its students pride themselves on the rigorous academics of this institution, we have come to the conclusion that considering the mental, emotional and physical health of the students and faculty, a pass/fail system should be implemented for this fall 2021 semester.”

The petition currently has almost 1,200 signatures from current students, parents and alumni. John Lonie, FCLC ’22, said he was inspired to create the petition after speaking with classmates and friends about the stresses brought on by the transition back to in-person classes after several semesters of courses being held virtually.

Lonie pointed out that many students have struggled with the challenges that come with a global pandemic, including illness and loss of loved ones, making focusing on schoolwork more difficult.

“A lot of students have been telling me, personally or through the petition Instragram that we created, that the transition to in person has caused a lot of anxiety socially — being back to meet new people, being back in a physical classroom,” said Lonie. “It’s also caused them anxiety because they still have to make these calculations to avoid getting sick and avoid being the person that spreads it to others.”

Lonie pointed out that Fordham implemented a pass/fail option for students at the end of the spring semester of 2020, when the pandemic first forced widespread campus closures and classes moved fully online. He argues that the fall semester of 2021 represents a similar period of difficult transition for students, so a similar grading policy change would be appropriate.

“We believe that Fordham made the right call back in the spring of 2020 because the transition was a lot for people to take in, and we believe that right now we’re in a transition semester,” said Lonie. “Fordham should really provide us with the ease of mind and give us this option so that we can focus less on whether we’re getting an A or A– or B and more about [being] ourselves again in a classroom and being a good friend to others and [caring] for our mental health first.”

Lonie argued that the transition to in-person courses has been especially difficult for students who took mostly virtual classes during the last year and a half. Some students are now taking more advanced classes in person after taking their prerequisite classes online, which may have negatively impacted their understanding and mastery of the subject.
Lonie said some students have expressed to him that language courses have been made especially difficult by the transition back to in-person classes.

Lonie said he has talked to many Fordham students who support the petition, as well as student leaders in Fordham’s United Student Government and several student-run organizations and clubs. Lonie said he believes that implementing a pass/fail option to relieve student stress would be in line with Fordham’s values as a university.

As the petition argues, “Fordham consistently speaks about cura personalis as the foundation for its educational experience. However, mental and physical health should not take a backseat to academic performance. The stress on students rises not just from their own physical health concerns but concern for the safety of their families and friends and cannot be so easily measured. It does not make sense, therefore, to continue to hold students to the exact same standards regarding grading and attendance during this period of time.”

While Lonie believes Fordham courses should be challenging for students, he said, “unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.” Lonie said that, as of right now, he has not received any response from Fordham deans or administrators regarding his petition, despite having sent several emails asking for a response in the last few weeks.

Lonie said there are 12 students currently working on getting the administration’s attention, and he hopes they acknowledge student concerns by responding to the petition’s demand. “We believe that the power of democracy should say something about what our needs are right now,” said Lonie. “Something this big and this diverse — Fordham simply ignoring this is incompetence on their part.”

At the most recent Fordham United Student Government (USG) meeting at Rose Hill on Nov. 18, senators acknowledged the petition but also agreed it would be difficult for the university to implement an updated grading policy this late in the semester, especially with finals rapidly approaching.

The Ram reached out to several academic deans and university officials for comment on the petition, but none responded in time for publication of this article.