Petition for credit/no credit grading for fall 2020 semester reaches over 4,000 signatures


As of Oct. 22, over 4,000 students have signed a petition calling for a credit/no credit grading option to be made available for the fall 2020 semester. While Mason has yet to announce whether it will adopt the same credit/no credit grading system used in the spring, students are advocating for this change. 

The pass/fail grading system was adopted in the spring 2020 semester in response to the pandemic-prompted transition to virtual instruction and its impact on students’ academic performance. With the absence of a page that outlines this semester’s academic options on the school’s registrar website, it is unclear whether the same system is currently in place or if the school has quietly reverted to ordinary grading policies.

Katie Smith, who created the petition, reiterated fellow student Hossein Khosshal’s reasons for starting the same petition in the spring, some of which still hold true a semester later. Among these reasons are concerns over professors’ ability to evaluate and quantify student performance and students’ jeopardized ability to study effectively if they’re not physically present on campus. 

The university has seemingly adapted to these concerns by providing resources that were not available in the second half of the spring semester to accommodate students who don’t have access to these resources elsewhere. They have also made clear that in-person classes are available to stimulate a more productive learning environment, and that most online classes are asynchronous to accommodate students who are currently operating under different time zones. Despise these accommodations, the asynchronous nature impeding students’ ability to interact with their teachers or classmates has only exacerbated the issue of productivity for some.

Despite increased accessibility to these resources, data suggests that the pandemic is only worsening and that the challenges it created for students and faculty members in the spring semester are reoccurring. 

“I think pass/pail is a really good system to enact due to the fact that many people are still being affected from COVID-19, mentally and physically, and for Mason to not enact pass/fail is essentially a slap on the wrist because this semester is no different from last semester,” said junior Natnael Haile. “I believe Mason will listen to the student body and put pass/fail in place this semester, since they are generally open to listening to the concerns of the student body and putting things in place in order to benefit the Mason Nation’s needs.”

On Oct. 20, Mason’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Planning sent an email to students with a survey intended to collect responses on students’ feelings about this semester thus far and how Mason can provide additional resources. 

Many other colleges have recently granted flexible grading options this semester. On Oct. 9, UVA announced in an email sent to all undergraduate students that they would be given the option to change a standard grade in a class to a Credit/General Credit/No Credit grade. Similarly, prior to the beginning of the semester, MIT implemented a unique grading system in which grades of D and F will be converted to D/NE and F/NE, meaning that they won’t appear on external transcripts and students are given the option to have one subject graded as PE/NE, meaning that they can opt to remove a passing grade from their transcript. 

Senior Ivan Torres is more confident in the possibilities of Mason following suit. 

“I do think the petition will be effective,” he said. “The University of Virginia recently announced that it is giving its undergraduate students the option of a pass/fail grading system after their students started a petition, just like the one that is going around for George Mason, and received 1,400 signatures. That news is encouraging to us because it is proof that these petitions can get major universities’ attention and is the most effective way of doing it.”

The credit/no credit grading system announcement in the spring was made shortly after midterm week, so if any announcement is to be made this semester, it isn’t unreasonable to think it will be made in the coming weeks.