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ASU College of Law switches to optional pass/fail during COVID-19

Posted at 9:19 PM, Mar 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 00:20:50-04

PHOENIX — Arizona State University made the switch to online learning on March 11, 2020 in response to COVID-19.

ASU President Michael Crow told The State Press last week that ASU “will definitively not do a pass/fail option on a University-wide basis,” but left the option open to faculty. That choice is being offered to the students of Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, but not without some push back.

Students attending the College of Law received an email from the dean regarding specific grading accommodations for Spring 2020. The email outlined a two-step process that students had to participate in either way.

Option one is the immediate request for pass/fail regarding for the Spring semester. Students must still complete all their work at the equivalent of 'C’ or higher and their grade point average (GPA) will remain unchanged. They have until April 26 to opt out of the program. Option two is a post-grading request for pass/fail during the Spring semester.

Students who did not choose the pass/fail option will be graded according to normal grading procedures. Once the grades are submitted, if their new GPA is lower than their previous GPA and they believe it is due to personal circumstances regarding the current situation, they can apply for an appeal.

Jill Mceldowney, a first-year ASU law student, emphasized that because the law school's grading system is subjective, this means you’re in direct competition with your classmates.

“The administration chose an option that seemingly puts rankings and GPA ahead of student's mental and physical health,” Mceldowney said.

“If you choose P/F and someone else chose to stick with the normal grading system, you're potentially going to have to explain to a future employer why you did what you did. It makes you look weak if you choose P/F even if you really need to."

Dean Douglas Sylvester of Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law responded to the concern, he said creating this policy was the best for the complicated situation.

“...What needs to be recognized is that, for the first time in our history, ASU Law radically altered its approach to student accommodations, and thereby grading, solely out of concern for our students,” said Sylvester.

“Our policy, which may not be what everyone wanted, absolutely focuses on student mental health and success. It does so individually—allowing each individual to make a choice about what is best for their mental or physical health."

GPA is important in law school because it determines a student's class rank. Students are concerned that this system will allow others to unfairly get ahead and climb rank while those who chose the pass/fail option grades will be idle.

Jason Wood, a first-year ASU law student, stated that people who opt for the P/F option because they’re struggling during this situation will have their GPA unaffected. Students that are less affected by the situation will be able to improve their GPA and jump rank.

"Rankings matter for a lot of students. There are students who worked hard and succeeded in the fall, earning a ranking they would have been rewarded for when firms are interviewing next fall,” Wood said. “It would be tragic if they lost those rankings simply because the situation has hit them particularly hard.”

Sylvester said the situation would be closely monitored and there’s always the opportunity to adapt the policies.

“Our focus is on the student—both those that are currently seeking accommodation and those whose desire to maintain a normal semester as much as possible. If any parts of our policy significantly impact a students’ academic standing or employment prospects, we will adapt,” said Sylvester.