Editorial: Extending the pass/fail deadline will bring more academic freedom for students

The pass/fail option at first glance seems like a perfect opportunity for students to take challenging classes or experiment in different fields without the risk of it affecting their GPAs. But the deadline for deciding to take a course pass/fail makes it difficult for students to maneuver.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors have only five weeks to decide to drop a class, while first-year students must choose within their first 10 weeks of classes. In many classes, especially those where the vast majority of the grade is from a midterm and final, students will have received very few, if any, grades from their professors by the time of the deadline. Currently, when students choose to use pass/fail as a failsafe for classes they think are difficult, they are often making a blind decision without any indicators of how they are being graded in these classes.

Extending the pass/fail deadline by another three weeks would allow students to make better informed decisions based on the difficulty of the course, a professor’s grading system and their own grade. If the university extended the pass/fail deadline to after most midterms were completed, students would have a firm understanding of the course’s difficulty. With a longer pass/fail timeline, students will be able to better decide whether pass/fail is the best option for each individual course with more confidence.

Another suggestion for improving the pass/fail options and student experiences overall is adopting a similar policy, similar to that of Columbia University. Columbia has an “uncovering” option for students that allows undergraduates to change courses they had initially chosen as pass/fail back to a regular course, grading wise. Many students may initially choose pass/fail for classes known to be difficult or for classes that they believe they will not excel in, and only several weeks into the semester realize they are doing better in the class than they thought possible. This kind of policy would allow students to “uncover” their grades for classes they initially choose as pass/fail.

Implementing a system similar to Columbia’s “uncover” option, allowing students to change classes from pass/fail to regular grading, could give them more academic freedom in the classes they choose. Without the risk of choosing pass/fail and then doing well in that class, students will be rewarded for their performance in a way they currently are not.

Additionally, there’s a question of fairness here. Students work for their class grades, and they should be the final arbiters of how it appears on a transcript. Given that Tufts already allows any elective courses in excess of twenty-six credits to be declared as pass/fail courses and used as credits for an undergraduate degree, the university clearly already values them. Giving students greater autonomy over their work and the results they gain in their classes is the logical next step.

We urge the university to consider extending the pass/fail deadline past the date of midterm exams. Improving the pass/fail policy would give undergraduate students the academic liberty to choose classes and weigh their options confidently.