University of Iowa to offer pass/not pass option for spring courses

The University of Iowa has announced it will have an optional pass/not pass system in place for grading spring coursework. A UI student recently created a petition asking the university to give students a passing grade as classes transition online.


Emily Wangen

The Old Capitol is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

The University of Iowa will give undergraduate students the option to take their virtual courses with a pass/not pass grading system, according to temporary policy changes shared Wednesday, while some students are petitioning for guaranteed passing grades. 

With the UI’s temporary grading system, undergraduate students can choose to receive a letter grade for their courses or a pass/not pass designation, keeping in line with its regent-institution peer Iowa State University

Graduate students have the option to receive a satisfactory/unsatisfactory designation or a letter grade for their courses. Students are required to choose an option by May 8 and also may withdraw from courses through that date.

The UI also announced that “a designation will be added to all students’ transcripts indicating the extraordinary circumstances encountered in the 2020 spring semester.”

But a petition to guarantee passing grades has gained traction among some Hawkeyes. UI junior Tarweeh Osman started a petition, which has more than 3,400 signatures and counting, advocating for the UI to make it so students at least receive the minimum grade to pass in their virtual courses. 

After talking to her friends and sharing the same concerns over how well taking online courses will work while living at home, Osman decided to create the petition. 

The petition is not for a pass/not pass system to be implemented for the courses, but for the UI to give students at least a passing grade in their courses, Osman said. 

RELATED: UI classes will move online for rest of semester, spring commencement canceled

Friends of Osman’s told her they did not feel their learning styles were compatible with online learning so they had stayed away from it in the past, she said. 

Some students may not have computers or internet access, or they may have to take care of family members or encounter other situations that make taking courses virtually difficult, she added. These reasons prompted her to start the petition. 

“I understand these are unforeseen circumstances and it’s not anyone’s fault of course, but I don’t want our grades to suffer the consequences of the circumstances,” Osman said. “GPA matters so much to all of us. I know we invest so much into it. We invest our money, our time, and so much of ourselves.” 

She wanted to give students a chance to collectively have a say in what they wanted the university to do for its students, Osman said. The petition has been shared over social media by Osman and her friends since March 19. 

The UI, along with institutions across the country, have transitioned to an online platform for administering courses to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

Other universities such as the University of Minnesota, Penn State, University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, University of California Berkeley, and others have implemented pass/not pass grading systems after the classes moved to virtual. 

The Daily Tar Heel reports that UNC, in addition to offering a pass/fail option, has decided that “students who are unable to complete their work because of hardships presented by COVID-19 will receive a new grade of ‘CV,’ rather than an Incomplete. Students who receive a ‘CV’ will have three more months to complete their work than they would for an Incomplete.”

UI sophomore Amna Haider said living at home gives her responsibilities such as helping cook and clean that she would not have while at school. This makes it so she has to balance completing her schoolwork with household tasks. 

“I think any decision the university makes directly impacts students, especially when it comes to our own success and how our classes are going to be structured, because we pay tuition to the university and we pay for in person instruction,” she said. 

The petition is a way for the university to see that students should have a say in how classes should be run in an unprecedented situation like this one, Haider said. 

While she is grateful the university is providing students with an online option for taking their courses, UI junior Deepika Sriram said there is a reason she did not choose to take online courses in the first place. 

Sriram said the virtual format makes it difficult for her because she uses university resources to help with her classes and shares some of her textbooks with classmates. 

As a computer science major, Sriram’s courses are sequential, making the grade she receives in each course important. A pass/not pass option does not work for those courses, she added. 

“So raising the passing grade to be just a C and above, I believe just for this semester would really help a lot of students,” Sriram said. “It would give them the opportunity to focus on other things that may be important.” 

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