By Clara Longo de Freitas and Madison Peek
Nadia Owusu says she felt crushed when the University of Maryland announced students would not have a pass/fail grading option in the fall semester. She thought students needed the option to stay afloat during the pandemic-ridden semester, and pass/fail “was the one boost that really would have been helpful.”
And she was appreciative when the university announced last month that undergraduates would have the option to take up to seven credits pass/fail during the spring semester. But the decision was also a no-brainer, she said — and one that should have been made months ago.
“To be a student during the COVID-19 pandemic is a very, very hard challenge,” the senior government and politics major said. “I only hope to see positivity and growth and better policy from here on out.”
Owusu’s perspective on the pass/fail decision is mirrored by others at this university; many are pleased the university is offering more accommodations this semester but remain perplexed about why the same decision wasn’t made in the fall.
“These kind of policies must begin before the semester starts,” said university President Darryll Pines in an interview with The Diamondback last week, explaining the reason for the discrepancy. In March 2020, after the pandemic sent students home and shifted all classes online in the middle of the semester, the university adopted an opt-in pass/fail grading system.
[Results from UMD undergraduate survey underline hardships students faced in the fall]
The university’s decision to not offer pass/fail in the fall prompted widespread backlash. The Student Government Association, the Graduate Student Government and the RHA all called for a pass/fail option.
Students also put together a survey to gauge the toll that the pandemic had taken on the campus community. On the last day of classes in the fall semester, Alysa Conway, the SGA’s director of academic affairs, sent the survey results to then-Provost Mary Ann Rankin, Pines and other administrative leaders.
But they wouldn’t change course.
This semester, though, community members are more appreciative of the efforts of administrators.
Charles Delwiche, a cell biology and molecular genetics professor, emphasized how he thought it was best for students to have a choice in whether they’d like to take credits pass/fail.
“Everybody’s under hugely increased stress this year. And being a student is stressful enough,” Delwiche said. “It just gives another option, helps people sort of calm down a little, gives the students a little bit more control over what’s happening.”
Jackson Devadas, a senior biology major who also took part in the fall semester campaign for pass/fail, said the decision was overdue. Students needed the option last semester, they said — especially students of color.
The pandemic is hitting Black, Indigenous and people of color the hardest, Devadas said. So, if the university wanted to fulfill its pledge to be anti-racist, it should have offered students a pass/fail option.
“I’m glad it was done and it needed to be done,” Devadas said. “But you can’t help but feel like, if they get it this semester, why couldn’t they have done it last semester?”
[UMD Provost Mary Ann Rankin resigns]
For Dominic Manzella, the decision came too late.
Manzella did not attend the university in the fall. The aerospace engineering major was set to have four in-person classes, but he has two immunocompromised siblings and did not want to risk exposing them to the virus. He considered returning in the spring to start his sophomore year if the university offered pass/fail, but his adviser told him that would be unlikely.
When the university offered a pass/fail option three days before the spring semester, he had already ruled out returning. If the decision had been made earlier, he said he would have considered taking classes this semester.
Manzella didn’t adapt well to online learning last spring, he said. So the pass/fail option was helpful.
“It allowed me to have a cushion,” he said. “If I don’t do well on this final, then I am not tanking my GPA.”
Conway said she knows Rankin, who resigned Jan. 29, had good intentions and wanted to support students, even though there were disagreements last semester, she said.
“But I think she made the right call this time,” Conway said. “So I’m just taking that and moving forward with that.”
Senior staff writer Eric Neugeboren contributed to this report.