The pandemic has presented significant academic, emotional and financial challenges to the Tufts community. As we near the end of the semester, it is becoming increasingly apparent t the constraints presented by the pandemic will follow us into the spring, as Tufts students will continue to attend classes under conditions that are far from ideal. To alleviate student stress in the face of prevailing academic challenges, Tufts must extend its Exceptional Pass (EP) policy to the spring semester in order to continue its trend of empathy and academic flexibility in this time of pervasive uncertainty and volatility.
In March, Tufts implemented an optional pass/fail policy for students, which faculty later extended to the fall semester. This policy was adopted in an effort to mitigate the disruptive effects of the pandemic and remote learning on students’ performance. On Oct. 9, the faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering voted to continue accepting college credit from courses taken at regionally accredited two-year colleges or community colleges for spring 2021. These policies illustrate Tufts’ receptivity to student concerns and prioritization of student academic success during current extenuating circumstances. However, as the pandemic rages on, it is necessary that Tufts extends its EP policy to the spring semester.
The factors contributing to student stress have not diminished; if anything, the pandemic continues to present new challenges to students’ mental and physical well-being. The recent spike in Boston’s COVID-19 cases suggests that Boston could be entering a second wave, which could be exacerbated by the incoming flu season and cold weather. In addition, the implications of current political events, including Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s recent confirmation to the Supreme Court and the presidential election, raise concerns among students about the future of our democracy. Unfortunately, these stressors will continue to impact students long after this semester ends. Tufts must take these circumstances into account and prioritize student mental health when deciding academic plans for the spring semester.
The EP policy is one way that Tufts could address student concerns, as it offers students flexibility in a time when so much is out of their control. In less-than-ideal learning environments and without sufficient academic resources, some students are unable to concentrate or devote all of their time to their studies. Online classes, as we have learned, are not entirely conducive to academic success, as student collaboration, hands-on experience and in-person instruction are limited. In these extenuating circumstances, students’ on-paper academic performance does not always accurately reflect their true abilities or efforts; thus, students should have the option to still obtain credit from classes without having to jeopardize their grades.
Other universities have set a precedent for how these policies should be approached during the pandemic. At Stanford University, a similar exceptional pass/fail policy was established for the entire 2020–21 academic year after leaders in the student body voiced concerns about the impact of online learning on academic success. By providing students with this option through the spring, schools like Stanford acknowledge the long-term impacts of the pandemic on students’ mental health. While Tufts has successfully lived up to this standard thus far, it should follow in other universities’ footsteps for future semesters by extending this policy to the spring.
Until a vaccine is released, it is unlikely that Tufts will be able to transition to an entirely in-person learning format. Therefore, as long as students are learning online in some capacity, Tufts must give students the option to pass/fail their courses. The transition to learning and living in this pandemic is not yet over for Tufts students, as old challenges persist and new ones arise. By implementing policies that emphasize academic flexibility, Tufts can ensure long-term academic success and emotional well-being among students.