UC Berkeley student launches petition calling for pass/no pass grading option for all fall 2020 classes

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According to Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, chair of the campus Academic Senate, a decision on how pass/no pass grading will operate this semester will likely be made by the end of the week.

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A petition to the UC Berkeley Division of Student Affairs calling for a pass/no pass, or P/NP, grading option for all classes and major requirements for fall 2020 has garnered 5,420 signatures as of publication time since its creation Monday.

Campus junior Kaden Kim created the petition after seeing accounts of students struggling during online learning from virtual UC Berkeley student communities on platforms such as Reddit, LoopChat and Piazza.

“Many students are also living at home, dealing with family life and distractions, as well as the potential physical harms from COVID-19,” Kim said in an email. “On top of this, the widespread fires and rolling PG&E outages in California have put the UC Berkeley population at a higher disadvantage, because school and grades are now so reliant on a stable internet connection.”

The petition also makes reference to several other universities that have revised their grading policies in response to current events, including Stanford University, Georgetown University and the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, chair of the campus Academic Senate, said in an email that a decision will likely be made on the matter by the end of the week.

Johnson-Hanks added that students are allowed to take one-third of their credits P/NP, and further said while there may be additional constraints on major requirements, college-specific advisers can grant exceptions for students who have “compelling reasons for an exception.”

In the spring, many students actually switched back to letter grades for some or all of their classes, Johnson-Hanks said. The number of P/NP grades in College of Letters and Science courses declined, according to Johnson-Hanks, and the number of students who chose P/NP grading was unequally distributed by social advantage.

“A policy put in place in order to level the playing field for students in crisis had the unintended result of making that playing field even more unequal, and made letter grades even more salient,” Johnson-Hanks said in the email.

Academic Affairs Vice President Nicole Anyanwu noted in an email that the Academic Affairs office has been working since before the school year began to urge more “lenient” and “flexible” academic policies for campus students.

Anyanwu said that the office is in discussion with the Academic Senate regarding the possibility of classes taken P/NP to apply to major requirements this semester.

“With regard to the petition, I empathize with students’ frustration regarding the lack of academic flexibility thus far. I understand that it is frustrating to be stuck in this sort of limbo around academics,” Anyanwu said in the email. “Ultimately, the more we can show that students are united on this issue, the better chances we have for implementing tangible academic policy accommodations.”

Contact Sabrina Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sabrina_dong_.