MSU changes to S/NS grading for spring semester after petition gathers signatures

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Following the transition to online learning due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a petition to make Michigan State University classes pass/fail system this semester circulated in the East Lansing community.

The petition was created by MSU senior Will Bulkowski on March 12, one day after President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced classes would be virtual only.

On March 26, the provost’s office announced a grading system for this semester that allows students to choose between their grade and a satisfactory/not-satisfactory marking. The threshold for undergraduates will be a grade of 1.0. After instructors submit grades, students will have two weeks to take the letter grade or go with the S/NS system. The threshold for graduate students will be 2.0.

Bulkowski’s petition listed three main reasons for a change including student accessibility to the proper online learning materials, students’ difficulty learning in an online setting and the effect online learning may have on students’ GPA. 

By 4 p.m. March 23, the petition had 11,500 signatures toward  its 15,000-signature goal. Bulkowski worked to share the petition with students via social media outlets including  Facebook and had planned on contacting Stanley to discuss the change. 

“The overencompassing goal is to preserve students’ sense of stability in college,” Bulkowski said. “GPA is required for internships, it’s required for other things and if people take a hit because of something that’s out of their control. I just don’t think it’s fair or equitable.”

Student Katie Haas said she opposes pass/fail grading.

“I need a GPA grade for my classes in order to have an accurate GPA for grad school applications and scholarships,” Haas said. “Not only that, but many courses need a certain GPA to be accepted into a specific program. To have put so much effort into this semester thus far, I feel as though moving to a pass/fail grading system would take away from my academic achievements.”

Junior Kayla Donaldson said she did not sign the petition because, as an honors college student planning to graduate a semester early, she took elective credits this semester in hopes of boosting her GPA.

“This semester I purposely took 18 credits to help boost my GPA, so if it becomes non-credit or pass/fail then that’s discrediting all the work that I’ve done,” Donaldson said. “Then it won’t even help my situation because it won’t go toward GPA.”

Junior art major Maureen Miller said she has been adjusting to online class fairly well, however she signed the petition thinking of others who might not have had as easy of a transition as she did. 

“Everyone has different circumstances. Some people might be more affected by the coronavirus than others,” Miller said. “There’s international students that can’t even go home and see their family, and it’s just a pretty crazy situation and I think people shouldn’t have to worry about school right now.”

Petitions have circulated around other universities to transition to a pass/fail system as more than 100 schools across the nation have moved to online learning. In response, Western Michigan University has granted students the option to re-evaluate their grading to a pass/fail system and Penn State University has transitioned to an optional satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading system.

Bulkowski posted on Facebook  that he was “humbled and amazed” at the response his petition has received, he said the main goal is to bring attention to the issue.

“The goal is to start a conversation about this,” Bulkowski said. “Obviously, I feel that it would be very difficult to implement, but it’s something that I am going to email the president about…and hopefully be able to start that conversation and come to a solution that will resolve the issue.”

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