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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

VSG push for optional pass/fail grading meets resistance from administration

With the current pandemic, at least 1,173 petitioners have indicated interest for a pass or fail grading format to account for the circumstances of hybrid and online classes.
Alex Venero
Alumni Hall, photographed on Aug. 28, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Alex Venero)

A petition for pass/fail grading started on by an account called Vanderbilt Student Body has 1,173 signatures. Consequently, VSG proposed optional pass/fail grading to the Vanderbilt administration. 

Based on Vanderbilt’s statement on July 25, regular grading policies will be in effect for undergraduates for the Fall 2020 semester. 

The petition, started two months ago, calls for a pass/fail option for all undergraduate courses taken during the Fall 2020 semester. The petition cites the added stress on students caused by the current pandemic as a main reason for the proposal. 

The Hustler was unable to get in touch with the creator of the petition. 

“For a student, increased stress tied with noticeable declines in academic performance can deteriorate motivation and be severely detrimental to emotional and physical well being,” the petition reads. 

Many students have also shared their reasons for supporting pass/fail grading this semester, including junior Sarah Fishbein, who started the petition to extend the pass/fail deadline last semester. 

“Last spring, Vanderbilt provided students with the option to take classes on a pass/fail basis in order to accommodate for the uncertainty and stress placed on students’ lives as a result of COVID-19,” Fishbein said in a Dec. 1 statement to The Hustler. “Unfortunately, not much has changed for students since last spring, and students continue to face unprecedented challenges that threaten their academic success.”

Following the call for pass/fail grading among students, VSG took action to push for possible pass/fail grading for all undergraduate students.

On Nov 4, VSG sent out a survey in its weekly newsletter to collect data on student sentiments on the current grading scheme and the possible need for a pass or fail structure. According to the survey, all answers will be kept anonymous.

In an email sent to The Hustler, Senator Syed Rahman indicated that out of the 2,321 responses, the survey results showed that over 70 percent of students preferred an optional pass/fail grading option for the Fall 2020 semester. In addition, 94.5 percent of respondents indicated some sort of pass/fail is preferred. This data is consistent with the results that the VSG has collected from the Spring 2020 semester.

VSG Senate pass/fail survey
A VSG Senate survey concerning Fall 2020 grading policies was sent out to the student body. Screenshot taken on Nov 17. (Hustler Staff/Ryder Li)
VSG pass/fail survey summary
A screenshot of the summary points from VSG’s pass/fail initiative report. Screenshot taken on Nov 23. (Hustler Staff/Ryder Li)

Senators Aaron Hunt and Rahman created the survey on Nov 4. Following the collection of the survey results, they had a meeting with Dean of the School of Engineering Cynthia Paschal, Dean of Peabody College Anita Wager, Dean of Blair School of Music Mellissa Rose and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Science Roger Moore on Nov. 20.

In an email sent to The Hustler, Hunt expressed his concern with the current grading scheme’s impact on students and how possible pass or fail grading may alleviate many students’ circumstances.

“While we know admin has its hesitations, we feel a strong desire to get this done for the student body,” Hunt said. “After all, one cannot go three steps without hearing how burnt out everyone is. We feel students need an option to potentially be more strategic about their semester. If all this is going to drastically affect them, they deserve a say in precisely how.”

However, after the meeting with the deans, Hunt commented that pass/fail grading may be unlikely based on the administration’s response.

“Unfortunately, it appears things did not go our way,” Hunt said. “[The deans] are going to pass [the proposal for pass/fail] along to the provost, but they said they could not endorse the move. They said they ‘felt it was not in the best interest of the students.’ We have other initiatives on the way, including one for intermittent days off, but this one appears to have fallen a bit short. While disappointing, our data will hopefully convince the university to at least reevaluate some policies.”

During the Spring 2020 semester, the Vanderbilt administration allowed students to change their enrollment from graded to pass/fail grading basis in light of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior policies that surrounded pass/fail enrollments were suspended for the Spring 2020 semester, and all undergraduate classes, regardless of prior status, were eligible for pass/fail grading.

Though time has passed since the spring semester, students like sophomore Hannah Grim still feel that the current circumstances remain unchanged. Grim detailed the hardship she faced this semester as she was unable to use her own private insurance to get medication for her health issues due to Vanderbilt’s disorganization.

“I have personally also received unjust pressure as a direct result from Vanderbilt’s disorganization,” Grim said. “I went for a month without antidepressants and entered withdrawal which took a heavy toll on me mentally and physically.”

Grim emphasized that those are just the issues she faced, while other students may be experiencing other difficulties.

“If Vanderbilt and its staff are going to treat its students like this and make them go through completely unneeded tribulations, they have the duty of at least lessening any stress by implementing mandatory pass/fail,” Grim said. “I am just one student, and I can’t imagine what other vastly different situations my peers are going through at this time.”

VSG pass/fail survey report infographic
A summary of the data presented in the VSG pass/fail initiative report. (Hustler Staff/Emery Little)
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About the Contributors
Ryder Li
Ryder Li, Staff Writer
Ryder Li ('24) is a student in the School of Engineering planning to major in biomedical engineering. He enjoys exploring new food and watching YouTube. You can reach him at [email protected].
Alex Venero
Alex Venero, Former Multimedia Director
Alex Venero (‘23) is from Rumson, NJ. She is majoring in Communication Studies with a minor in World Politics. When not shooting for The Hustler, she can be found at almost any Vanderbilt Athletics event or exploring the food and coffee of Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].    
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Comments (4)

The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
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3 years ago

I think that students should be able to pick the grade that they deserve in order to combat grade inequality. I really like the progressive coffee shops where you can pay whatever you want and get same cup of coffee. I might pay $1 whereas another person might pay $5 but we get the same coffee and it is fair for everyone.

3 years ago

They said they ‘felt it was not in the best interest of the students.’
Ah yes, thank you council of privileged white people for reminding me what’s in my best interests.

VU Soph (She/Him/Zirs)
3 years ago

VSG needs to fight grade inequality. It isn’t fair that the students who are the smartest or work the hardest end up with the best grades. The people who make A or B grades should be forced to give up some of their points to students who make Cs or below in order to level the playing field.