Students circulate petition calling for change in grading system

A petition calling on Marshall University administrators to switch from a traditional grading system to a “credit/no credit” or “pass/fail” system for the spring 2020 semester was posted online early Tuesday morning and has since garnered more than 1,500 signatures.

Lauren Bromund, the Marshall student who posted the petition on Change.org, said she was inspired by Benjamin Peters, a student who recently started the same petition for West Virginia Wesleyan College just over a week ago. Peters’ petition has garnered more than 1,000 signatures and notes that universities across the U.S. such as Duke, Vanderbilt and Smith College and University of Florida already have instituted the transition.

“I’ve been having a lot of trouble in recent days trying to focus on schoolwork in the midst of all that’s been going on with this pandemic. I’ve struggled with my physical and mental health (and) my life has been completely disrupted from its regular routine,” Bromund, a junior Spanish major, said. “I’ve also had trouble accessing my courses and various other online engagements regularly, and when I saw the idea for this grading scale change, a million other reasons why it would be lifesaving for me and my peers came to mind.”

In addition to signatures, the petition has also garnered dozens of comments posted by students providing their own personal perspectives—mostly in support of the proposal.

“There are a lot of reasons within the petition about why this is necessary, but I’ve also posted updates, and more reasons keep flooding in all the time from others in the community,” Bromund said.

TJ Blankenship, a junior double-majoring in forensic chemistry and biochemistry at Marshall, said various implications and impacts of the coronavirus pandemic make continuing with a traditional grading system unfair to the student body.

“There are many circumstances that put an untold number of students at risk of potentially failing classes during an unprecedented, historic global pandemic, and it’s unfair to put the student body in that kind of position,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship said that while the university already has taken steps to protect students during the pandemic, such as transitioning to online instruction, more should be done to account for a lack of preparation.

“Online instruction is not an adequate substitution to in-person instruction, and the student body requires more assistance in these troubling times,” he said. “Nobody was prepared for a global pandemic of this scale—especially the student body. The faculty was unprepared to deal with these circumstances and are trying to make their entire courses available online, and even though they are absolutely trying their best, it’s still a disadvantage to students.”

Blankenship said he is most worried about students who lack access to computers and internet and may be forced to care for a family member who is immunocompromised and most at-risk of contracting the coronavirus.

“The petition is a way to bring the opinion of students to the administration (and) show that the circumstances surrounding this semester are affecting us in ways that the administration could not have possibly predicted,” Blankenship said.

Laurel Campbell, a junior English education major at Marshall, said she supports the petition’s call for a transition to a pass/fail grading system because having only online classes causes significant problems for students and professors.

“The concept of having classes online isn’t feasible, especially for those students who are moving back to areas where there is barely any cell phone service,” Campbell said. “On top of that, I have seen during this time that a lot of students are struggling with mental health due to the unknown, and because of that, grades will suffer.”

Campbell said some professors already have made the choice to switch to a pass/fail grading system because they realize students currently are facing more pressing issues, and she hopes other professors will do the same.

“While I am grateful that Marshall suspended in-class meetings, I believe we should take the initiative to switch to pass/fail for the remainder of the semester,” she said. “There are only a few weeks left for this year, and there are larger issues at hand for many students, and worrying about class should not have to be one of them.”

James Prentice, a senior business management major at Marshall, said he is worried the transition to a pass/fail system would have unintended consequences for upperclassmen at the university.

“I just feel that moving to a pass or fail system hurts a lot of upperclassmen who are trying to raise their GPA to better their transcript for higher education,” Prentice said. “I feel the graduate, doctorate or any other professional degree seeker is going to be affected by a pass or fail system, especially if the rest of the nation’s universities continue using the typical grading scale for measuring performance in a class.”

The petition to Marshall administrators can be found at https://www.change.org/p/marshall-university-administrators-change-to-credit-no-credit-grading-for-marshall-students.

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected]