Students petition for pass/fail option as semester draws to a close, no word from faculty if this is a possibility

With the end of the semester and final exams right around the corner, a petition calling on the college to implement a pass/fail option for students has garnered more than 600 signatures on

During the spring 2020 semester, the college provided all students the option to take any of their courses pass/fail. However, for the ongoing fall 2020 semester, the college reverted to its usual policy of allowing juniors and seniors in good standing to take one-course pass/fail per semester. The signers of the petition feel that the spring 2020 policy should be extended through the ongoing semester.

“Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, this semester has been challenging on all fronts. The student body believes the college should approve a pass/fail option. Many students’ learning has been compromised due to the added stress and have been mentally affected,” the description on reads. 

It continues, “We, the students, believe that a remote learning environment does not compare to an in person one. Material is much more difficult to comprehend and relationships with professors and classmates are hard to come by. The benefits of the administration approving this severely outweigh the risks.” 

The comments on the petition echo these sentiments, expressing concerns ranging from the issue of how COVID-19 affects students’ ability to learn to the issue of connections with professors. One reads, “the added stress of this pandemic does not help with the stress of classes” while another suggests that “professors aren’t engaging fully in teaching the material.”

Zubair Ali ’24 signed the petition because he said he feels that a pass/fail option would help alleviate student stress during an online semester that has been hard on students in regard to their mental health.

“If we were on campus we’d be in a learning environment with strong support systems where we would be able to manage heavy workloads while also having extracurriculars and having friends,” Ali said. “At home it’s easy to get distracted, it is a ton of work, and it is incredibly isolating.”

A member of the class of 2022 who signed the petition and wished to remain anonymous expressed in an interview that “the quality of instruction has been lower than when we were on campus.”

“The professors are of course trying their best, but sometimes there are technology issues like WiFi cutting out or Zoom not working that prevent the class from running smoothly,” they said. “It’s varied because some professors have adapted really well, but some have had a much harder time. It makes learning the course content a lot harder this semester than it has been in the past.”

However, some faculty and members of the administration have mixed feelings about students switching to a pass/fail option.

“In a situation like the spring 2020 semester, when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and was incredibly disruptive to everyone’s semester, I believe the move to the temporary pass/fail option for most courses made very good sense,” Dean of Advising Michael Olin wrote in an email to The Lafayette. “I personally believe extending that option into the current semester and possibly beyond may have unintended negative consequences. For example, as it states in our college catalog, ‘Students should be aware that many graduate and professional schools react unfavorably to pass/fail grades.’”

Olin added that recent articles in publications such as Inside Higher Education have painted “a murky picture” about pass/fail options at colleges and universities.

Ali said that he “understands the risks but still thinks it is a good option for students to have.” Furthermore, regardless of whether a pass/fail option is put into place, he says that going into next semester he “hopes that Lafayette will be flexible and accommodating to promote student mental health.”

As of Friday morning, no formal announcements have been made by the college regarding pass/fail decisions.