Universal, default pass/no pass is imperative in a semester unlike any other

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: The added stress of grades must be removed amid a semester in pandemonium

Illustration of a person with their head in their hands, surrounded by a collage of stressed people contained by zoom squares.
Genesis Cruz/Staff

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Spring 2020 was a nightmare, and administrators swept in with a default pass/no pass, or P/NP, policy. Fall 2020 has somehow been worse. And yet administrators have withheld P/NP from the struggling student population.

For months, the ASUC Office of the Academic Affairs Vice President has been working with campus administrators to enact a campuswide P/NP policy. But campus bodies have lagged in implementing any big changes, and the Academic Senate did not make these changes compulsory. 

Students need a more protective safety net. A default policy would incentivize students to make the more academically and physically healthy choice of decreasing their workloads. To offset the dumpster fire that is the world this year, UC Berkeley needs campuswide, default P/NP.

The pandemic has not improved over time but worsened; if pandemic-driven ills were enough reason to give students P/NP in the spring, then a similar policy must carry into this semester and every semester where learning is similarly impacted by COVID-19.

A recession has accompanied the worsening pandemic, decimating financial and job security. The added stress of searching for a job and stretching dollars to make ends meet takes a toll. Stress means less sleep, which in turn means a weakened immune system, a real threat during flu season and the era of COVID-19. 

Student mental health is in free fall. A Pulse survey from late October displayed an increase in mental ills since the beginning of the semester. Forty-three percent of undergraduates reported symptoms associated with major depressive disorder, while 48% of students had symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. Unless campus believes that the Disabled Students’ Program’s accommodations can be stretched to encapsulate almost half of the student population, it must create a more far-reaching academic policy to drastically alleviate stress.

Election anxiety has also compounded stress, especially for the many students involved in political organizing. Altogether, this means less motivation and less time to slog through course material. 

Claims that default P/NP would make it more difficult for students to remain competitive when applying to graduate schools are weak. Every academic institution knows what is happening; our priority should not be on risks to academic reputation, but on student health and stability.

On Nov. 5, the College of Letters and Sciences became the first to implement a voluntary P/NP policy. While this is a good step, every other college must follow suit and build on this policy, notably to ensure that classes do not count toward the one-third P/NP unit cap. The university must heed students by furthering the policy to default P/NP so that we can get closer to some semblance of wellness.

We’re struggling. Throw us a bone. Give students default, universal P/NP.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2020 opinion editor, Katherine Shok.