Dal announces additional grade options for winter term

University response doesn't go far enough, says student

Dalhousie University is shifting grade options for the winter term.

On March 26, Dal Provost Teri Balser emailed the student body about alternatives for their academic records. The decision was made due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

Once grades have been posted to Dal Online, students who receive a passing mark may keep their final letter grade or ask to have their grade changed to “PASS,” which is “GPA neutral.”

“This is a good option if you feel that your final grade is not reflective of your overall performance,” reads Balser’s email.

Students who receive a failing mark may request to have it switched to an “ILL.” As Balser put it, this “is defined on your transcript as ‘compassionate reasons, or illness.’  It does not give you credit for the course, but also does not negatively affect your GPA.”

This decision comes after an online petition gathered more than 1,600 signatures, although there’s no indication the petition specifically influenced the university.

Meanwhile, Dalhousie Student Union called on the university to implement PASS/FAIL model, among other measures, in a statement released on March 25.

The impact on students

Naomi Murray, a kinesiology student who created the petition, was disappointed in the university’s response.  

“They didn’t even acknowledge many concerns that were voiced about how a grade of ‘pass’ may impact students’ acceptance into graduate programs,” Murray wrote in an email. “This makes it difficult for graduating students to know what the best option is for them.”

Before Balser announced Dal’s implementation of the PASS/ILL model, Murray spoke with the Gazette in a phone interview from her home in Ontario. She’s been struggling to focus on school while the world is facing a pandemic, and she’s not the only one. Through conversations with her peers, Murray said, she realized other students are in the same boat.

“Everybody was like, ‘I’m not meeting my usual standards. I can’t get work done.’”

After seeing Jessica Raye Seidel’s petition to reschedule convocation, Murray decided to make a petition of her own. Her suggestion goes a step beyond “pass/fail,” asking the university “to freeze current grades and allow students to opt-in to the rest of the semester if they wish to improve their grades.”

“I don’t think anyone who was counting on these final assessments to boost their grades should have to give that up if they don’t want to,” said Murray, “but for everyone who does want to, and really can’t see themselves performing their best in the coming weeks, I think having the option to just end right now is a good one.”

Murray also pointed out that not all students are on a “level playing field” when it comes to access to resources and study spaces. While some are financially supported by their parents, with access to a quiet study space and a reliable internet connection at home, that’s not the case for everyone. These factors add extra challenges for students, “especially at the end of the semester when the workload is exceptionally high.”

As of March 27, almost 1,900 people have signed Murray’s petition. However, there’s no evidence Dal is considering Murray’s ideal approach.

“The university has stated in their email that they’ve heard our concerns, but their response says the opposite,” she wrote.

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Rebecca Dingwell

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