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College makes changes to class credit options due to COVID-19

On Tuesday, March 24, the Office of Academic Affairs and the Registrar sent an email to Beloit College students announcing that “academic deadlines, procedures, and options have been changed or expanded” following the closure of campus and transition to online learning in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement included several noteworthy changes to advising and Fall 2020 registration, as well as the news that students could choose between a credit or no-credit (C/NC) mark or a letter grade for their current courses by as late as May 6. The email noted that “a comment will be added to official Beloit College academic transcripts about the unusual situation in Spring 2020.” The email was sent in response to some students contacting Provost and Dean of the College Eric Boynton and starting online petitions calling for a C/NC option, beginning  on Sunday, March 22 in the Beloit College student Facebook group after the first week of online classes. 

As previously covered in the Round Table on March 16, Beloit College President Scott Bierman made the announcement on Saturday, March 14 that Beloit College would be closing its campus and moving to “distance learning” in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a highly contagious novel coronavirus that can lead to respiratory distress. COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday, March 11, and over the next three days over 200 colleges and universities across the United States closed their campuses, according to CNBC. As of the time of writing, COVID-19 has caused 30,000 deaths globally and the United States has become the new epicenter of the virus, surpassing all other nations at 130,000 cases. New York City has over half of these cases, with numbers increasing exponentially in the metropolitan center during the week of March 15. 

In the March 14 email from Scott Bierman, students were instructed to move off campus by March 29. The move meant that many students found themselves back in their childhood homes with family members. They were obligated to self-isolate as cities across the United States issued “shelter in place” orders or banned social gatherings, which restricted the movements of over 160 million people, according to the New York Times

In the midst of these distressing changes in daily life, The Washington Post published an editorial on Friday, March 20 by Columbia University Professor of English Jenny Davidson titled, “Forget distance learning. Just give every student an automatic A.” Davidson wrote that “the cumulative stress on the system is too great, and the inequities in the ways this will all play out for different students means that grading as we know it is already over for the semester. It’s time to abandon our preconceived ideas about what needs to happen in a college class for a student to get credit for it.” Davidson called on university leaders to make these changes. Her op-ed received over 600 comments. 

Two days later, a student on the Beloit College student Facebook group shared the news that they had been told by Boynton to “expect an announcement” about classes becoming C/NC, and urged students to email Boynton directly. A few hours later, a petition authored by Christopher Mazza’20 and Daniel Harris’20 was posted in the student group that called for “the administration to ease the undue burden COVID-19 has levied on students, faculty, and the campus community in suspending the current academic grading system in favor of an opt-in Pass/Fail grading system for all courses; including those which count for a major, minor, or any other academic requirement.” The petition was signed by 130 students and alumni and garnered dozens of write-in comments in support of the decision. 

In the March 24 email confirming that students can opt for C/NC grading until May 6, the Office of Academic Affairs also stated they were aware “that the move to distance learning has caused distress for many of you.” The email announced that for the Spring 2020 semester, credit grades would be given for a “D” and above, that advisor approval will not be needed to register for Fall 2020 courses, and that alternative assignments would be used for Liberal Arts in Practice (LAP) requirement courses. The email was signed by seven staff and faculty members, including professors Matt Tedesco, Kristin Bonnie, Lisl Walsh, and Ted Gries, and was also co-authored by Registrar Mary Boros-Kazai, Associate Dean of the College Lisa Anderson-Levy, and Eric Boynton. 

Jordyn McDonald’22 told the Round Table in a message that allowing students to wait until May 6 to choose their grading method was “really helpful.” Fellow sophomore Branda Joseph’22 agreed, also in a message. “Not every student is able to learn in an online setting and their grades could suffer from that,” McDonald wrote. Joseph told the Round Table that “it’s hard to stay motivated” and that “online classes are hard for certain subjects. Plus being at home is not a good environment to study, especially for college students who used to do their work at the library or Powerhouse.”

McDonald told the Round Table that although she didn’t see the petition, she “definitely heard about it. Upon hearing about it, I hoped the change would go into effect and I’m glad it did.” Joseph wrote, “I really hope [professors will be more understanding with students during this time] and not use it against us. This is not our fault, of course.”

McDonald wrote that, “I personally can work in either [my home or a classroom]. I just feel it’s better working at my home because I can work on my own time, but I am a little more distracted than what I would have been if I were in a classroom setting. I think it’s more a matter of self-discipline now.” Joseph admitted she “doesn’t like” any of the online applications such as Zoom or Google Hangouts that allow students and professors to see each other through laptops and computers. Joseph wrote, “It’s hard. I felt like giving up on school every day on Zoom.” 

The Registrar Office has encouraged students to email them or other staff and faculty if they have any clarifying questions. In a YouTube video sent to the campus community on Sunday, March 22, President Scott Bierman asked students and faculty to take care of one another during this uncertain and unprecedented time. 

Sources: CNN, CNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Round Table

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