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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: UNC's new pass/fail option leaves much to be desired

In a puzzling turn of events, the University announced Thursday it would extend the pass/fail option to all undergraduate courses for the Fall 2020 semester. 

The announcement came after a post on the Office of the University Registrar’s webpage outlining a pass/fail option for the fall semester was discovered and then deleted Wednesday, stirring confusion among students.  

The pandemic has been hard on all of us — and UNC’s poor handling of the situation has only made things harder. Furthermore, the transition to remote learning poses unique challenges for students who may have learning disabilities, family and childcare hardships or an unreliable internet connection. Carolina’s unrelenting and falsely objective pursuit of “academic excellence” comes at the immense cost of the mental well-being of its students.

As a result, it is both unfair and unrealistic to expect students to perform to the same standards during what is, frankly, an unprecedented semester. The Editorial Board is grateful the University has chosen to extend the pass/fail option this semester — but the updated policy leaves much to be desired. 

Mark Peifer, a professor in the biology department, said in a tweet that the new policy is “disingenuous, creating the appearance of change without real change.” 

We couldn’t agree more. 

At face value, the pass/fail option seems like a good thing. But there are a few key differences between the watered-down fall 2020 policy and the accommodations extended to students in the spring and summer. 

According to the new policy, courses will receive one of three grades: pass, low pass or fail. Grades of C-, D+ or D will be converted to a Low Pass and cannot be used for graduation requirements.

Continuing to uphold a tiered grading system by including a “Low Pass” designation does very little to achieve any semblance of equity right now. In fact, it pretty much does the opposite. Ultimately, it’s minority and low-income students who will be disadvantaged most by this policy. 

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are taking enormous personal and financial risk to attend the University must now juggle these concerns without a reasonable pass/fail option to fall back on. The heartbreaking testimonials from the UNC Commission for Campus Equality and Student Equity’s online forum show just how deeply this situation has affected students.

Since a grade of Low Pass cannot be used for graduation requirements, students who do not receive a high enough grade may have to put forth additional time and money to retake the class in the future — an added burden during an already stressful time of personal and financial hardship. Moreover, students must choose to declare a class pass/fail before the last day of classes on Nov. 17 — before they take final exams or receive their final grade.     

Students need more relief right now than we did in March, but for whatever reason, we’re not getting it. The situation has worsened on all fronts, and the mental toll of the pandemic has grown exponentially. We are struggling — mentally, financially and academically — but UNC doesn't seem to care.

It’s exhausting to be a UNC student right now. Students deserve better, and so far, the University has done very little to support them. Right now, the best thing UNC can teach its students is that their physical and emotional health should always come first. 

@dthopinion |

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