VCU ‘exploring’ optional pass/fail grading system as student support grows

VCU senior Bilal Ghazi created a petition requesting that VCU give students the option of receiving a pass/fail grade for their work. Photo by Georgia Geen

Andrew Ringle, Managing Editor

When criminal justice senior Bilal Ghazi learned VCU had canceled its May commencement ceremony due to COVID-19, his first thought was of his family members who had plans to travel to the U.S. to see him walk.

The decisions to cancel the commencement ceremony and in-person classes for the rest of the semester didn’t surprise Ghazi because of similar closures and cancellations happening globally. At first it was exciting, he said, like missing school for a snow day. Then, it became “bittersweet.”

“You realize that this isn’t one of those kinda things where it’s just a matter of inclement weather,” Ghazi said. “This is something that could spiral into becoming worse and worse.”

Ghazi thought about what it would mean for him and his peers during their last weeks of college, and he found many didn’t know what to expect during the transition from in-person to online instruction. That uncertainty led him to create a petition requesting VCU give students the option of receiving a pass/fail grade for their work.

The petition, which Ghazi posted to change.org on March 18, has received more than 4,900 signatures as of Monday. The description states a pass/fail option “is a must” to give students and professors relief during unsure times.

“At the end of the day, it is a big decision to make,” Ghazi said. “But of course, unprecedented times call for some drastic and unprecedented decisions.”

Some of Ghazi’s criminal justice classes revolved around in-person activities such as partner work and group projects. Now, professors will use online resources like video conferencing and Blackboard.

Junior Dika Haque, a math sciences and political science double major at VCU and the vice president-elect of the school’s Muslim Student Association, says moving to online-only classes will limit her ability to communicate with professors.

“Whether it be like getting homework posted or just being specific about assignments,” Haque said, “when you’re not face to face with an instructor, you might not get the message across that you’re trying to get to your students.”

Haque moved back in with her parents after classes moved online, and she said her home situation isn’t ideal for learning. As soon as she heard about Ghazi’s petition, she sent it to everyone she knew and hoped it would illustrate to the university how many students support the option.

“Things happen in people’s lives,” Haque said. “Someone might have not had a good start to the semester and already had a really bad grade going into this. And it might be even more difficult for them to pull it up.”

Offering a pass/fail option is something other schools, including University of Virginia and Georgetown, have already implemented during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Ghazi wants to make clear that the pass/fail grading system would not be mandatory per his request, and it would only apply to certain classes. He said students in medical school, for example, could opt for a regular grade if they wanted to boost their GPA. 

A statement from VCU’s provost’s office sent on Friday noted the university is “exploring” a pass/fail grading option and that more information will be available in the near future.

“We know you still have questions,” the statement read. “And we are working diligently to provide the answers, keep you informed, and provide support.”

With the deadline to withdraw from classes approaching on April 17, Ghazi hopes those answers come soon. He said if he doesn’t see a response from VCU this week, he’ll reach out to students from organizations across the university to help his petition reach its goal of 5,000 signatures.

“That way,” Ghazi said, “they get an idea, if they haven’t already, of the amount of support backing the option to have a pass/fail grading system.”

Ghazi has been active in addressing the effects of COVID-19 through United2Heal, a non-profit organization that sends medical supplies to areas in need around the world.

Ghazi, the group’s director of public relations, said in a message that the organization is sending gowns and masks from its own supply to VCU Health. He said he wants to do all he can to assist people in need of medical supplies and donations.

Updates from VCU regarding COVID-19 are posted daily at covid-19.vcu.edu.

2 Comments

  1. I really hope we do not do a pass/fail!!!!! I have worked so hard this semester to boost my GPA and I do not want it taken away by kids who want to use this event to slack. I understand everything is new and unfortunate, but we are more than half way through the semester so our grades for the most part are a reflection of our performance. I understand everyone has different things going on for them but at the end of the day this is still a university, were we are paying for an education. Half the people signing the petition are kids who for the most part have had little to no impact ( aka kids who are not sick, have access to the internet, and have little to no house hold responsibility) my friend right now is in Ghana and she is able to complete the course work, take care of her brother is able to maintain her classes. I do not want my 3 months of hard work to be tossed to pass/ fail because it does not go towards the GPA! These kids need to get off Instagram and stop making these lazy petitions and get there work done. The reasoning to me still has no logical grounds for a pass/ fail system

    • In response to the comment above:

      If the Pass/Fail system were to be enacted, it would be optional for every student, so YOU would be able to have your grades POSITIVELY affect your GPA.

      Over 10,000 students at VCU are considered low-income. Low-income students are already at a significant disadvantage to financially stable students. They have statistically lower retention rates, graduation rates, and rely more on resources that are offered on campus, like Trio SSS, Ram Pantry, campus learning accommodations, and in-person classes. Being displaced from a community that provides students great assistance to academically perform the best that they can put students at an even greater disadvantage. By not offering an optional pass/fail system for the spring semester would revert us back to a classist society where only select groups can obtain a college degree.

      I strongly encourage everyone to not assume that everyone is using the pass/fail system to slack off because that simply is not the case. Unless you can speak to every single person who has signed the petition and get an idea of what their background is like and reasoning for signing, do not assume. You and one other friend may not need the pass/fail system (you may not be obligated to use it), but thousands of others DO need it.

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