“The stress is higher than it’s ever been as students continue to adjust to an online environment.” Aryan Path, a senior mechanical engineer feels for his residents. As an RA he’s all too familiar with the way this semester’s workload has been affecting students across campus.
The NJIT student body has come to expect a courseload on par with “name brand” engineering institutions. The university’s students were not prepared for an entirely online format beginning last semester due to COVID-19, and the painful transition is reflected in the spirits of the students, despite NJIT’s efforts to retain previous learning experiences. Path is far from the only person to notice.
Just a few days ago, on Dec.7, with the feedback of many prominent members of the student body and thoroughly presented research, the Instructional Delivery Subcommittee recently announced their decision to grant a special final grading policy similar to, but less comprehensive than the system implemented last spring. Undergraduate students this semester will be allowed to convert up to two courses to a non-letter grade designation that do not affect student GPAs: Grades of Cs or above can be converted to a P (pass), Ds can be converted to AC (academic credit), and Fs can be converted to NAD (not for academic credit).
The idea of having a special final grading policy, or a “pass/fail semester” as most NJIT students would call it, had likely been floating around the minds of the student body since before the fall semester even began. The proposal first took root during a standard Student Senate general body meeting. During a Q&A session with Joel Bloom, a student asked if the University was considering another pass/fail semester. Bloom said that the University was willing to reconsider implementing such a system, but also stated that they saw no need for a special grading policy this semester at the time.
Equipped with this information, several students, including Jeremy Bedient, senior industrial engineering student brought forth research regarding a pass/no credit grading policy to the Instructional Delivery Subcommittee, a subcommittee within the Pandemic Recovery Steering Committee on Nov. 23. Later on, a list of other collegiate institutions implementing such a policy this semester was also presented by Eugene Deess, Executive Director of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.
While this research was going on, Faculty Senate held a strawpoll to see if they thought the conditions of this semester warranted a special grading policy. Five members voted in favor, 14 voted against, and two abstained.
On Nov. 25, two days after the initial subcommittee meeting, Rutgers announced that they were granting a Pass/No Credit option to students at all its universities for the fall semester. One argument against having a second pass/fail semester is that NJIT has relatively less name recognition than other schools, and that multiple semesters utilizing special grading policies would weaken an NJIT degree. However, proponents argued that this line of thinking was no longer relevant when many other New Jersey schools were following similar policies.
Mounting support from student groups continued to push for these policies over the past few weeks. Riddhi Ramesh, a junior biomedical engineering student, started a change.org petition entitled “Pass/fail at NJIT for Fall 2020.” The petition has reached over 2,100 signatures. Generally, change.org petitions hold little water within Student Senate and Faculty Senate groups because there is no easy way to verify that its signers are genuine NJIT students. In particular, Student Senate recommends students reach out to them directly, or, if petitions are created, they allow for verification, such as Google forms that would require NJIT emails.
The subcommittee met again on Nov. 30, and this time there was much more support for a special grading policy for this semester, both directly from the student body, and indirectly from more prominent universities offering pass/fail for their students. “I’ll be honest, a lot of people sort of had the mindset that this was going to happen to some degree,” said Bedient. “The discussion became less about whether we were going to be implementing pass fail and more about how it was going to be implemented.”
Many members of the subcommittee initially suggested that students should only be able to convert one course grade to a pass. A limited pass/fail system isn’t unique to NJIT, many universities are implementing a similar system, Rutgers University notwithstanding. The current situation has been deemed less dire than the previous semester’s, and the subcommittee believed that the grading policy should reflect such. However, several members of the subcommittee, including Blake Haggerty, Executive Director of Digital Learning and Technology support, and Perry Deese pushed for students to be allowed to convert a second final grade, reflected in the final decision.
At the end of the discussion, T’s were crossed, I’s were dotted, the subcommittee approved of a two-course pass/fail semester, and the relevant paperwork was brought to the greater administration.
Bedient cites that this special grading policy was also made possible by the determination of NJIT’s students. “One of the big factors was how much students have done this semester to keep NJIT open, like if you look at how well we’ve done in terms of cases relative to other schools… to some degree, you know, the students have done a really good job this semester with adapting. It’s worth the University being generous and letting them know that like, the University appreciates how much they’ve done.”