ATLANTA — Legislative Democrats stepped up the heat on the University System of Georgia Wednesday to let students forced off campus by coronavirus to opt in to a pass-fail grading system for the spring semester.
A group of Democratic state representatives held an online discussion of the issue featuring several students who have led the charge for pass-fail. With the deadline for professors to turn in grades looming next week, time is of the essence.
“We don’t think it’s too late if the (university system Board of) Regents would lift the handcuffs from the universities,” said Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, who hosted Wednesday’s discussion on Facebook. “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”
With the coronavirus pandemic gripping Georgia in mid-March, Gov. Brian Kemp ordered all of Georgia’s public colleges and universities to close until March 31, an order he later extended to the full spring semester. The university system moved to convert in-person classes to online instruction, but it took a couple of weeks for the changeover to fully take effect.
More than 10,000 students have signed a petition during the past several weeks asking the Regents to allow a pass-fail grading option. Student governments at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University have passed resolutions supporting the proposal.
Briana Hayes, one of the students who organized the petition drive, said many students from rural Georgia lack the internet connectivity necessary for online instruction.
“They need this because they’re living in an environment that is not conducive to learning,” she said.
Ciera Thomas of Augusta, a pre-med student at UGA, said online instruction is different from in-person classes.
“As much as our professors have done their best, some things are going to get lost,” she said.
University system spokesman Aaron Diamant said the Regents considered switching to a pass-fail system this semester but ruled it out because of potential long-term impacts including eligibility for financial aid and scholarships, admission to graduate school and professional licensure.
“These are truly unprecedented times, and we understand some of our students may be experiencing significant hardships,” he said. “ However, we are working hard to connect our students with critical resources.
“We trust our faculty to teach and grade students effectively, while also being compassionate and understanding of the life challenges we all find ourselves navigating now and in the months ahead.”