The SFSS calls on SFU to re-implement pass/fail grading

The SFSS argues an alternate grading system is needed to reduce stress on students during the COVID-19 pandemic

PHOTO: Ahmed Ali / The Peak

Written by: Jaymee Salisi, News Writer 

The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) is calling for SFU to implement pass/fail grading for the upcoming Spring 2021 semester and “retroactively for the Fall 2020 semester.” They are proposing that “students be allowed the choice to accept their final course grade or opt for a ‘pass/fail’ grading basis for an individual course.” This would mean that “P” and “F” grades would not affect students’ GPAs and passed courses would “count towards the total unit[s] required for a degree.”

The memo sent to the Senate by the SFSS outlines various Canadian universities, including the University of Calgary and Concordia University, which have introduced different grading systems, such as the pass/fail system. Vice President of University Relations, Gabe Liosis, said in an interview with The Peak that “SFU could be a leader across Canada” if the Senate chooses to take action on this issue.

The SFSS memo states that the pass/fail grading system should be implemented to reflect SFU’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion — especially during the unprecedented times of the pandemic. They argue that this motion would alleviate the mental health strain that students are experiencing due to the pandemic.

The SFSS outlines concern for students’ mental well-being as “grading schemes have not been altered” to remote learning. Liosis stated that many students have reached out to him to express the stress that online learning has caused them. According to Liosis, many students work in different time zones, lack access to sufficient work environments, and experience burnout and social isolation. Furthermore, scholarship requirements, student loans, and other academic commitments prevent students from taking lighter course loads or taking any semesters off. 

Liosis stated that the SFSS’ efforts have been “met largely with great resistance from SFU [a]dministration.” Dr. Jonathan Driver, former Vice-President, Academic and Provost pro tem, stated that SFU sees “no reason to implement the pass/fail option” after the Spring 2020 term. 

Driver noted that SFU accommodates students in different time zones and those who are unable to attend live lectures online by encouraging instructors to adopt asynchronous learning for their courses. He believes that, at this point, students should be able to determine whether to take courses under the circumstances of the pandemic.

Others have expressed concern over the impact on proficiency that a pass/fail system would have on crucial professions such as medicine or engineering in which specific grades matter. Liosis addressed those who believe that the pass/fail grading scheme would be detrimental to graduate school opportunities. He said that while a large majority of students are not pursuing post-baccalaureate or masters degrees, many universities have stated they will review each student’s applications holistically and with regard to each individual’s experience with the pandemic.

Liosis said that the SFSS plans to continue working with student senators until the January 11, 2021 Senate meeting. He noted that “the fact that this motion made it onto the Senate agenda in the first place is an excellent example of what happens when students unite, using one voice, to push for a common cause.”

Read more about the SFSS’ campaign to implement pass/fail grading here.