Health care systems are being overwhelmed and economies are sharply contracting. The world is in peril to a degree that humanity has never maneuvered before. Suddenly, we have no idea what our futures will look like — except for chaos and distress.
Clear signs that this is just the beginning of a long fight have exacerbated college students’ anxieties about the world we are entering. Will we have jobs lined up for after graduation? Will there even be jobs available for the taking? Many of us are powerless against the economic carnage that is crippling our job prospects.
But that is not even our most immediate concern. Though it may pale in comparison to the broader circumstances, the transition to online learning has increased the precariousness of our college careers. Learning capacity and productivity across the entire student body have been disrupted for a myriad of reasons. It is nearly impossible to reproduce the quality of work we did with in-person learning.
We have been deprived of resources, and are differently impacted by this enormous change. It is indisputable that different student populations are not equally hurting right now. For the most disadvantaged, academics are not and simply cannot be one’s top priority.
For colleges to truly be “the great equalizer,” they must fully integrate that fact into their academic programming now and moving forward. As Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher-education policy and sociology at Temple University said, “In situations like this, you’re only as good as what you’re doing for your most vulnerable people.”
This is why Boston University’s decision to make this semester’s grading system an optional credit/no credit is a highly considerate one. The provision provides a solution to those who may want to raise their grades, apply to highly competitive graduate school programs or, most importantly, those who cannot afford to be penalized financially or otherwise for struggling with the transition.
Sometimes, the administration has disappointed us. But hope was created with this change, and in conversation our editors had with Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore and Senior Associate Dean of Students Jason Campbell-Foster. BU has stepped up as a leader among higher-education institutions in recognizing the same inequities it has at times perpetuated.
The world is crumbling before our very eyes right now. The stress of a midterm cannot be and should not be equated to the stress of watching your parents, who may be healthcare professionals or essential workers, risk their lives. The administration has acknowledged that, gaged what multiple groups cared about and offered us the best solution.
For those who are privileged enough to remain singularly focused on school, you still have the opportunity to raise your grades. For those who would not be able to do as well on campus either, credit/no credit is especially accommodating. Classes that may have been causing you a great deal of stress can be transformed into invaluable learning experiences, or set aside entirely because of more pressing matters.
For those applying to graduate school, you can still make your own decisions about effort according to graduate school requirements. As a student body, we appreciate that we can still self-determine our academic prospects after the fact, instead of based on the circumstances we were in when the semester was cut short.
As for professors, credit/no credit also returns crucial agency to them. They too have had their lives upended by this transition to online classes along with a number of other factors that students are not aware of. Now, they can structure syllabi, homework and exams according to their own capabilities during this crisis, and demonstrate empathy for differing student situations. If BU had implemented a mandatory pass/fail system, things could look quite different — in the worst way possible.
We won’t have a return to normalcy anytime soon, but at least the administration has done a commendable job of supporting us academically through this time of major crisis.