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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: UNC's pass/fail policies are a major fail

A student studies near the front steps of Wilson Library on the first day of classes, Aug. 18.

In a University-wide email from the Registrar’s office this week, UNC announced updates to its pass/fail policies. While UNC pledged to work with Information Technology Services to simplify the pass/fail process, it set a deadline of Oct. 14 to finalize pass/fail decisions.

Students who choose to pass/fail a course will simply have “pass” or “fail” on their transcript, rather than the letter grade. Thus, pass/fail courses have no impact on a student's GPA.

Throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, students were allowed to pass/fail until the end of the semester due to anticipated difficulties of remote learning and the pandemic on student performance.

It’s undeniable that we are still in a pandemic and could still suffer academically as a consequence of impacts on our family, health and relationships.

But this isn’t a call to expand pass/fail for another semester, or even another full academic year as COVID-19 impacts campus — this is a call to make pass/fail an option for students indefinitely.

The first and most obvious reason is that grades aren’t always an indicator of academic success. The pandemic has shown us this. Stress, sudden changes to our lifestyles and varying modes of instruction have all proven to be obstacles for students in the last year. 

Even in a normal year, arbitrary factors can influence letter grades in a way that doesn’t reflect a student’s effort, work ethic or knowledge of the subject matter. Ever had a professor who was a tough grader? Or a class that was taught in a way that was difficult for you to understand? Or even just an 8 a.m.? 

Even if you can navigate less-than-ideal professors or classes, we are all individual people with our own struggles, worries and personal lives. Universally-experienced challenges, like the pandemic, shouldn’t be the only challenges that UNC takes into consideration while implementing its pass/fail policies.

Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is that grades do not always equal success. Scales of numbers and letters — that can vary professor from professor — fail to take into consideration our strengths and weaknesses as individual students. 

When a course turns out less than ideal, we should be allowed to have some control over how our grades are counted.


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