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Illinois State University considering pass-fail option for classes switched to online because of pandemic
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Illinois State University considering pass-fail option for classes switched to online because of pandemic

NORMAL — At a time when coronavirus is giving the country one of its biggest tests, Illinois State University may expand the ability of students to choose a pass-fail option for their classes, which won’t affect their grade point averages.

Normally, the pass-fail option — which ISU calls pass-no pass — is limited to courses that are not part of a student’s major or general education requirements. And, normally, students must make the choice early in the semester.

But with the coronavirus pandemic causing universities such as ISU to switch to online or other distance-learning methods in mid-semester, these are not normal times.

ISU junior Dylan Hummel, a finance major from Cabery, launched an online petition on the Change.org website, asking the university to expand the pass-fail option.

“I got it (the idea) from a friend at Texas Tech. I thought it was a good idea,” said Hummel.

By 6 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, the petition had received more than 10,000 signatures.

Jan Murphy, ISU’s vice president of academic affairs and provost, said ISU already had a team studying the option.

Murphy said the matter will be discussed Wednesday night at the Academic Senate meeting, which will be conducted as a video conference call on the Zoom platform.

“A lot of universities are looking at this as an option,” she said. Among them are Harvard, University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University.

“We do have to work with department chairs and the registrar,” said Murphy. “We want to make sure students don’t make the decision lightly.”

Under current practice at ISU, a professor doesn’t know a student has chosen that option and turns in a regular grade. If the student gets a C or better, they pass; a D or F, they don’t pass. It doesn’t impact their GPA. “Our policy is similar to other universities’ policies,” said Murphy.

Even though ISU was already looking at the idea, Murphy said she welcomed the Hummel’s petition as a way to gauge student opinion and has been in contact with him.

“I really value the student starting the petition. … It’s an action we like students to do,” said Murphy. “I have had great conversations with him.”

Students are concerned that their courses won’t transition well from face-to-face to an online format, Hummel said, and it’s unfair to have a semester with such a major change “affect their GPA negatively.”

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“For their general health and well-being” allowing the pass/no-pass option would “take a lot of the pressure off,” he said.


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For Hummel, the transition to online courses on Monday was rather smooth. As a business student, he said, many of his classes already were hybrids that included an online component.

But the Change.org petition notes that many students are struggling both academically and financially while worrying about the health of themselves and their families.

Murphy said the situation is “hard on everybody” and “I worry for our students and our faculty. …This is not what they signed up for.”

But Murphy, who is retiring at the end of June, said, “When we get through this, we will be a better university because of this … because we’re committed to learning from this.”

Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota

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