Faculty Council won’t consider pass/fail petition despite student mental health concerns


Eric Henry

Students walk around a mostly empty campus during the pandemic.

This winter quarter DePaul revoked a policy implemented last spring to allow students the option to elect a Pass/D/Fail grading for their courses in efforts to reduce the long-term GPA effects that online teaching could engender. 

Students have since called via social media and petitions for DePaul to reimplement the policy, citing mental health concerns, added learning barriers with remote coursework and internet accessibility as primary concerns.

According to DePaul’s Faculty Council President Scott Paeth, the Pass/D/Fail policy was instituted last spring to adhere to an Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) mandate requiring all institutions to grant Pass/D/Fail courses transfer credit for all general education courses. 

“[DePaul] wanted to ensure that students who started at DePaul had the same benefit that those with transfer credit did, so we recommended to Faculty Council that they pass the temporary Pass/D/Fail policy last spring,” said DePaul spokesperson Kristin Mathews. “Faculty Council passed it, and the provost signed it into effect last spring.”

“When the state extended their policy through December of 2020, we followed suit,” Mathews continued. “The state has not extended the policy beyond December of 2020; hence DePaul is not extending it either.”

Both Mathews and Paeth made it clear that DePaul will likely not implement a Pass/D/Fail option for students at this time, despite a student petition started by DePaul sophomore Annabelle Negron and senior Chloe Brougham. 

“At this time, Faculty Council is not considering re-implementing the Pass/D/Fail policy,” Paeth said. 

“[DePaul has] an obligation to remain in compliance with state regulations,” Paeth said as the reason for his opposition to re-implementing a Pass/D/Fail policy. “If the Illinois Board of Higher Education changes its policies again, I anticipate we would again follow suit.”

Other universities, however, are not doing this and do not view a Pass/D/Fail policy as going against any IBHE regulations. Nearby Northwestern University and University of Illinois at Chicago have a credit/no credit option in place for the entire 2020-21 academic year.

“Other universities have made other choices,” Paeth wrote in an email regarding Northwestern’s policy. “However, when the state decided to revert back to its original policy at the end of fall quarter, we did as well.”

With the regulation no longer mandated by the IBHE, DePaul students who may leave DePaul to complete their studies at a different institution might not be granted credit for any Pass/D/Fail classes not taken during the timeline set by the IBHE. 

“At this point in our lives, we are old enough to be making our own decisions,” Negron said. “We are adults who are not only navigating university courses online, but we are also living in a pandemic. [Any argument] about other institutions not accepting Pass/D/Fail is a flawed argument.”

The petition put in place by Negron and Brougham has gained traction in the DePaul community, gaining approximately 2,000 signatures in one week.

“[The introduction of Pass/D/Fail in spring 2020] sent a wave of relief over every student I know at DePaul,” Negron said. “We are now almost a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, and our situations have not changed — if anything, things have gotten worse. The winter quarter is arguably the hardest quarter of the year, students are faced with mental health declines, seasonal depression and more.”

Negron added that nothing has changed since the introduction of Pass/D/Fail policy in spring 2020, as the pandemic continues to affect all aspects of life.

“We are still struggling with our reality, living through a global pandemic,” Negron said. “DePaul needs to recognize the hardships we have been living through this year. Nothing has changed, and neither should this policy. Classes are still online, where the education we are receiving is nowhere near the quality of in-person classes.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, 40.2 percent of their mental health survey respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 said they were showing symptoms of anxiety disorder at the beginning of the pandemic between April 23 and May 5, 2020. As the pandemic has progressed, the number has increased to 48.3 percent as of the latest survey, which collected responses between Feb. 3 and Feb. 15.  

“[Personal and financial losses] — in addition to students transitioning to almost solely online education for this past year — is a lot to manage,” said Russell Dorn, manager of news and integrated content at DePaul. “Each student is having their own lived experiences and some students will need more support than others.”

Some students come from experiences working full time, making it difficult to transition to online learning, while others might be experiencing difficulties getting access to adequate technological resources to complete classes. 

“The majority of my time at DePaul I have been on the dean’s list — however, this quarter has proven to be very difficult for me,” Negron said. “I am not only a full-time student, but I have a full-time job, this is true of many students. The Pass/D/Fail option would give me and many other students the relief of not having one or two classes drastically impact my GPA. Despite the possible risk, I would absolutely enroll in the Pass/D/Fail option.”

There are a variety of other stories other beyond Negron’s difficulty managing remote education with working full-time. Negron is not alone — other students, such as economics student Claudia Grzybt, are facing other difficulties impacting their studies such as personal hardships and internet accessibility issues.

“[I signed this petition] because I had to travel to Poland to set up and attend my grandfather’s funeral in the middle of midterms,” Grzybt said in a comment on the petition. “The time change, the lack of accessibility to the internet, the high expectations of what I can get done since it’s ‘all from my laptop’ and the grief have had a huge impact on my grades this quarter.”

The next Faculty Council meeting is on March 3 and is the last Faculty Council meeting scheduled during the winter quarter, according to their calendar.