As Auburn students have navigated their way through a different semester with many classes online, some have said they are finding schoolwork behind a screen more challenging than face-to-face instruction.
McKenna Prochaska, sophomore in law and justice, saw her fellow students in a class of 2023 group chat discussing these issues. They wanted to start a petition to the University to reintroduce the “satisfactory, unsatisfactory” grading system used for the spring 2020 semester, but they were unsure how to approach the idea. So, Prochaska took the initiative and launched one herself.
The petition, addressed to Jay Gogue, calls for the fall 2020 semester to be switched to having a pass, fail option to account for the online school learning curve.
“I actually had just received a really bad grade on a test when I saw these messages, and I decided that I wanted to start this petition for every one struggling this semester,” Prochaska said. “This semester is not as easy as it has been in the past. College is not easy, but this year especially has been extremely difficult for everyone.”
Prochaska said in the group chat, many people were saying that they would sign it, but no one was actually making the petition.
“I know I am just one person, but I like to help a lot of people, so I made the petition,” Prochaska said. “I sent it to so many different group messages.”
Prochaska used Change.org to create the petition, although she explained there were many different ways to go about starting a petition. She said the petition has been shared at least 2,397 times.
“I definitely did not think my petitions would have as many signatures as it did,”
Prochaska said. “There are over 6,750 signatures on the petition currently.”
As of publication, that number has grown to over 7,000 signatures.
In the petition, it states that Auburn University should open up a pass/fail option to students due to the virtual format of many classes. The petition also explains that students are not getting the equivalent in-depth conversations that an in-person class supplies.
Prochaska is a transfer student from Southern Union State Community College, which did not offer pass/fail last semester even though part of the semester was also all virtual for her classes.
“I am a student who spends most of my time studying, and I always complete my assignments on time,” Prochska said. “The test I took that I said earlier I didn’t feel like I did well on would have been a lot better if we were all able to be together as a class.”
Prochaska said she wants to go to law school after earning an undergraduate degree, and she does not want this semester to ruin her chances of getting into a good graduate school with all the unforeseen challenges COVID-19 has caused.
“I contacted the Office of the President because I actually wanted to go in there and talk to someone about it,” Prochaska said. “On Tuesday, Oct. 20, [I had] a meeting with the associate provost for academic effectiveness.”
When she met with Norman Godwin, associate provost for academic effectiveness, Prochaska said her plan was to print out all the signatures on the petition, the point of which was to highlight the students who were out of town. This would show how many students do not have all of the resources that the campus provides as some might be taking classes during the semester from their hometowns.
However, Prochaska said that when she went to go print the signatures, it would have cost $70, so she decided to just highlight the out-of-town signatures on her laptop instead. Prochaska said more than half of the signatures were signed by people in areas other than Auburn.
She explained that many students were not able to come to campus and have an in-person meeting with a professor, and that they are not able to get the one-to-one teaching style.
She also said that when there are any in-person teaching moments, masks cause a lot of distractions when it comes to seeing people face-to-face.
At an Auburn University Senate meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20, Provost Bill Hardgrave announced that the University did not intend to extend the satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading options to students this fall.
Hardgrave said this decision was reached after considering four factors: midterm grades, the extension of the deadline to drop classes, problems caused by the pass/fail grading system and how many students would actually use it.
According to the provost, midterm grades — specifically in core classes — have mostly been either average or higher this semester.
“We looked at the midterm grades, as we always do, in our core courses in particular,” Hardgrave said. “The percentage of A’s is higher than in the previous five fall semesters.”
Hardgrave added that the percentage of F’s have remained roughly the same, but D’s and C’s have gone down.
“Overall, grades look good relative to previous semesters,” he said.
The second reason that Hardgrave said the University wouldn’t offer a pass/fail option was because the University had already extended the date for students to drop a class.
Usually, the last day to drop a class without a grade penalty is early in the semester, but this fall it was extended to Nov. 24, the last day of classes this semester before exams begin after Thanksgiving.
Students who drop a class on that day will still receive a “W” on their transcript and will not receive credit for the course; however, their GPA will not be impacted.
Hardgrave said the third reason why the University won’t offer a pass/fail option is the potential complications that could arise for students who choose this option.
“Some courses serve as a gateway to other courses,” he said. “[And] you can run into issues when applying to graduate school if you have a pass/fail on your transcript.”
The final reason that Hardgrave talked about was how few students utilized the pass/fail option when it was offered last spring.
“So when you consider all that, we are, at this point, not going to consider pass/fail for the fall. It just doesn’t seem like something that’s needed given the grades and the issues that it causes,” he said.
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