Students petition to change grading policy

A petition is circulating online calling on USC to give students the option to alter the grading policy to pass/no pass for the spring semester. Created Monday night, it claims that the stress surrounding coronavirus, along with classes shifting online for the rest of the semester, may potentially affect academic performance with students adapting to the new situation. More than 800 people have signed the petition. Another petition created by a different user is also circulating with more than 600 signatures. 

The petition also comes in light of a campuswide email from President Carol Folt Monday announcing that virtual instruction would be extended until the end of the spring semester.

“With the sudden changes to academic progress and all the stress due to the outbreak of COVID-19 the university should give the option to students to change the grading system of this spring semester to pass/no pass,” the petition read. 

Debadrita Bhattacharya, a senior majoring in psychology, created the petition after hearing comments from her residents at New North Residential College who were concerned about how their future grades would be affected by the new online format, especially considering labs, presentations and group projects that require an in-person presence. She also said that her professors have shared similar concerns, specifically in learning to adapt to the new online system. 

“I appreciate the action the University has taken because it was the right call,” Bhattacharya said. “However, I do believe that students and professors are also worried about academics …  It would really help, for classes which are difficult to teach online, that students would have the option of still changing their grading system for classes to pass/no pass, at least have the option to do it.”

Currently, only 24 units may be taken pass/no pass with a maximum of four that can be applied to the general education requirement. Classes taken for major or minor requirements, along with writing classes and classes numbered 390 or 490, must be taken for a letter grade.    

For students adapting to the pandemic, Bhattacharya said that the pass/no pass grading system should be an option that USC provides. 

“This would really alleviate a lot of stress, especially with everything going [on],” Bhattacharya said. “Students have to vacate, students have to adapt to studying online, professors have to adapt to teaching online and how to [interact virtually]  at the same time and make the class as normal as possible at this point.”

Students at universities such as UC Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon University have also petitioned to move courses to a more flexible grading policy that would allow students the option to convert classes to a pass/no pass policy. Both school petitions have garnered more than 3,000 signatures.

Provost Charles Zukoski said the University has not currently instituted a change to grading policy.