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Pass/Fail Option at AU: Students are Calling for Universal Pass


Provost Daniel J. Myers announced in an email sent to the American University community on March. 26 that most undergraduate and graduate students can select a pass/fail option for their Spring 2020 Semester courses amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pass/fail option officially started April 1 and the deadline is the last day of classes, April. 27. Students can use the pass/fail option for one, some, or all of their courses. The option does not apply to students at the Washington College of Law.


Undergraduates can use Pass/Fail courses to satisfy major/minor and university requirements. The email indicates that students with unique requirements, such as federal aid or scholarship requirements, international accelerator programs, and more should discuss their options with an advisor before moving to pass/fail.

The decision came after student leaders spoke to administration and several AU students called for a pass/fail options through online petitions. Other schools, such as University of Southern California, Towson University, and George Washington University have also made the decision to allow students to opt-in to pass/fail.

Connor Miller, AUSG Senator at-large, was amongst those who pushed for the option. 

"As Senators, it's our job to advocate for the needs of the student body, and we saw this as a necessity. We recognize that in these unprecedented times, not everyone will have a lifestyle at home as they did at American University. We pushed for the option for students to choose pass/fail to be extended until the end of the year, as many other universities have done" Miller said.

He also added that the option to advocate for a pass/fail option was made to respect the decisions of every student at AU. "We want to make it clear that this is not mandatory for any student-we want every student to make that choice for themselves. We believe this is the best way to address this situation for every student at American University because it respects every student's autonomy," Miller said.

Some students at AU want more steps to be taken such as universal pass/fail or universal pass. Universal pass/fail would mean that all classes and students would receive pass/fail as opposed to the standard letter grading system. Some schools that have implemented this policy include Johns Hopkins University and Smith College amongst others.

Universal pass is similar to pass/fail in that it eliminates the possibility of any student using letter grades for the semester, but it gives a student a pass on their transcript and does not allow for the possibility of students to receive a "fail". 

Nicolas Ballon, a senior at AU, is in favor of the university implementing universal pass/fail, citing concerns over the ability to learn online and the possible inequities that may arise from allowing a pass/fail option.

"University pass/fail is a must, and it is important that it is executed well. For example, in the email sent out, it stated that the pass/fail option may not apply to certain students with federal aid or scholarships. These are the students that often have less resources and stability at home. Being Latino myself, I also wonder what the university is doing for the international community" Ballon said.

Angelica Vega, a senior at AU, went a step further by saying that all students should be given an A this semester to prioritize family and self-care. She also added that this would alleviate pressure from professors who may be concerned about grading. "A transition into giving everyone A's will make sure that we acknowledge that this is a really scary time for a lot of students and acknowledge that not all students come from the same background," Vega said.

Students' pushes for more has led to a movement called AUniversal Pass, started by seniors Faith Lewis and Sarah Soliman, now run by Lewis and senior Ayla Gurbuz. The movement is demanding a mandatory pass/fail system at AU for the Spring 2020 Semester, and ideally, an elimination of fail altogether, taking inspiration and help from the #NoFailYale movement.


"AUniversal Pass was organized because students at American University recognize that any grades that are given this semester are likely not to do with the individual academic achievement of a student, but more likely to do with the relative amount of privilege that student has. American University has said that we're allowed to opt into a system that puts marginalized students still at a disadvantage and not just now, but well into the future" Lewis said.

Lewis noted that the student response to the movement has been strong. The Google form uploaded to the group's Facebook garnered 91 responses within a little over 24 hours.

The form includes a spot for students to write personal struggles they are going through at this time and some of these responses have been shared on the group's Facebook and Instagram. AUniversal Pass brought the responses and their demands to the university.

"Most of the response is, yes we want a Universal Pass system. We really are struggling, that's what all of these responses are saying. It's really sad how much we're all struggling. But the real sad thing is if American University doesn't make that change" Lewis said.

After a meeting with Dean Water, AUniversial Pass organizers posted a statement on Instagram stating "This administration believes that the grading scheme for this year is a good but imperfect solution." The organizers said they appreciate AU's work so far, however, they stand in solidarity with AU students because,"there is so much more that could be done -- Universal Pass, partial tuition repayment, and more."

Students who want to make their "dissatisfaction known" can anonymously fill out this form and AUniversial Pass will send it to AU administration. 

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