Registrar Reports Increase in Pass/Fail Classes this Semester

Sarah Manderbach '22, Opinion Editor

The college registrar has reported a total of 807 classes will be taken pass/fail in the Fall 2020 after the school imposed a Oct. 9 deadline for students to opt for this preference.

Dickinson’s All-College Committee on Academic Program and Standards (APSC) proposed two potential grading ideas for this remote semester. According to Dickinson Registrar Mary Ann Leidigh, there were two initial proposals.  The first option included a choice between pass/fail for all classes, where “letter grades would not be assigned, but pass would be still considered the equivalent of C or better,” or letter grades for all classes, “with the option for faculty to assign pass/fail grades for an entire section.” The second option was to offer pass/fail for any courses for the semester.  The college ultimately decided on the second option. 

Given the status of the remote semester, the pass/fail option also applied to graduation, major, minor and certificate requirements. Any pass/fail option a student opts for does not count toward  the usual limit of four pass/fail courses during a student’s Dickinson career.

After accounting for all of the applications for pass/fail classes, Leidigh reported that 475 students submitted forms to take classes pass/fail for the semester. Of those 475 students, there were  807 total  pass/fail classes entered by the Registrar’s Office . 

Out of all the classes being offered this semester, only eight were chosen by the professors to be pass/fail only. As a result, these classes forwent the letter grade system entirely this semester. There are 147 total students in these classes. 

Associate Professor of Economics Andrew Farrant is offering three of his classes as pass/fail only this semester. When asked about his decision-making process, Farrant said “I wanted to assure a level playing field for all students – different time zones, Internet, study space, background of pandemic, street protests, etc.”

When comparing this semester’s pass/fail courses this semester to previous ones, Leidigh reported an uptick in the number of students who opted to take classes pass/fail. “The number of courses students choose to take on a pass/fail basis varies by semester. It can range anywhere from 8 or 9, to 30. Typically, more students elect to take a course pass/fail in the spring than in the fall,” she said.

Leidigh said that because the deadline to take a course pass/fail is usually the last day of the add/drop period,“spring 2020 would have fallen into the normal pattern of pass/fails,” though the changes to the spring pass/fail policy meant that students could change at a much later date.

Students are still unsure regarding the college’s policy of pass/fail courses this semester. Nick Leidy ’22 said, “I think it sucks because for people wanting to go to grad school, it’s not really an option and we’re still stuck with it given the circumstances.”

Others prefer the current pass/fail policy . “I like pass/fail. It takes off some of the pressure in classes that are tougher online. It allows me to learn without worrying as much about the grade,” said Zane Saxton ‘23.

Vicktoria Phanthavong ‘21 said that pass/fail for both last semester and this semester can only help your GPA, not hurt it. “If you are not planning to get a grade to boost your GPA I’d say go pass/fail. Last semester my poli sci [political science] professor decided to make everyone pass/fail said only three students preferred it to be regular grading and only three people got an ‘A’ on a paper.”

However, Phanthavong also mentioned a downside to taking classes pass/fail. “If you are afraid of employers seeing the pass/fail, explain the circumstances. I’m taking two of my five classes pass/fail because the teaching of the professor isn’t great, and both classes are taught by the same professor.”

Phanthavong added “I’d say if you don’t feel comfortable having pass/fail on your transcript talk to your professor and they can make an exception that you are graded regularly, but keep in mind the grade of your class is gonna show.”