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Community Update on Coronavirus: April 9, 2020

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Jeremy Haefner

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Dear DU Community,

As we near the end of week two of spring quarter, the academic experience for faculty and students has come more clearly into focus. We want to thank the many students who have reached out to us by email to share their personal experiences with navigating resources, accessing technology and managing the many stresses associated with COVID-19.

During these extraordinary times, when each day brings another unforeseen challenge, it is critical to stay focused on our mission, our vision and our principles. Today the issue is a modified Pass/Fail option for our students and the principle is equity.

The pandemic has forced all of our faculty to deliver their courses online and all of our students to become online learners. And yet, we are well aware that our students learn differently. Some of our students do not enjoy the same privileges as high-speed internet and up-to-date computers to participate fully in online learning. Some students have complex home environments that make it extraordinarily difficult to focus their undivided attention on the learning process. Some students come from populations where the data shows that the virus is hitting them harder and so are dealing with anxiety and concern about loved ones afflicted with the virus. And some students experience learning differences that are not optimized in an online environment. Here’s what one student shared this week:

“I’m speaking from experience as a 2nd-year student who lives in Section 8 housing and struggles with mental health. This isolation in a small space coupled with a full course load has made it difficult to focus on my assignments and I am rapidly falling behind, even though I’m trying my best. I know there are many students in similar situations struggling with mental health, online learning, unemployment, technology limitations, extreme time differences, etc. Many of us including myself have worked hard in our time at DU to maintain high GPA’s and feel discouraged by current circumstances.  A Pass/Fail option can give students some of our power back, allowing us to do the best we can instead of worrying about how we’re not doing well enough.” 

We are all here to serve our students and they are at the heart of all that we do. Therefore, understanding their needs and listening to their calls for compassion and for equity is, and always must be, our first priority. 

Over the past three weeks, we have listened carefully to many constituent groups, including the Faculty Senate, the Faculty of Color Association, the Joint Council representing undergraduate affinity groups, and Graduate Student Government. We also have met with leaders of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), which is elected to represent the interests of our undergraduate students. Earlier this week, USG passed a resolution to implement a Pass/Fail option for the 2020 spring quarter.  It is also worth noting that our students initiated a petition that has garnered more than 1,100 signatures, endorsing a Pass/Fail option. At the heart of this input is the principle of equity as many of our students are struggling due to very different circumstances.

After very careful deliberation, we have decided to move forward with an optional Pass Plus/Pass/No Pass model. We are making this decision now so that students are aware of this option before the drop course deadline of 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, April 12. The Pass Plus/Pass/No Pass option details are as follows:

  • The Pass Plus/Pass/No Pass opportunity is optional, and is being offered for spring quarter 2020 only;
  • All undergraduate and graduate courses at the University of Denver are eligible for Pass Plus/Pass/No Pass grade designations for spring quarter 2020 (The Sturm College of Law operates on a semester system and moved to a Pass/Fail system on March 23);
  • Pass Plus (P+) is defined as a grade of C- or higher. Pass (P) is defined as a grade of D+, D or D-. No Pass (NP) is defined as lower than D-. None of these options will impact GPA calculations;
  • Students can make the decision whether to exercise the Pass Plus/Pass/No Pass option up to 72 hours after their final grades for the quarter are available for viewing;
  • Students should consult with their program advisors as they consider the Pass Plus/Pass/No Pass option;
  • It is important to note that the Pass Plus/Pass/No Pass option may not be appropriate for students in some graduate programs with accreditation, licensure and/or professional requirements;
  • If a student chooses the modified grading policy it will have no impact on their GPA calculations for financial aid eligibility; and
  • Students will be allowed a one-time opt-in and opt-out for each course in which they are enrolled.

We realize that no decision of this kind can satisfy every individual’s interest and that there are faculty, in particular, who would prefer to maintain our traditional approach to grading to ensure that we preserve our academic standards and assessments even during this extraordinary time. We understand and respect that perspective.

We also recognize that the process we used to come to this decision falls short of our own usual expectations for complete shared governance. However, on balance, we believe that the Pass Plus/Pass/No Pass option—with the generous time horizon—provides our students greater flexibility as we move through this unprecedented period. While it will not erase the disparities many of our students face, it will to some extent mitigate their frustration and anxiety. It is this principle of equity and our embrace of the public good that drives our decision.

Eight weeks remain in the quarter; and finals, June 8–11, seems a long time away. But by announcing this decision now, we hope to give everyone enough time to adjust to this new approach and to ensure that spring quarter will be a rewarding and enriching experience for all.  

Jeremy Haefner, Chancellor

Corinne Lengsfeld, Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor