MCSG Overzoomer: Pass/Fail Grading for the Upcoming Academic Year, Mac of All Trades Chartered

MCSG Overzoomer: Pass/Fail Grading for the Upcoming Academic Year, Mac of All Trades Chartered

Marshall Roll, Contributing Writer

On March 2, the Legislative Body (LB) met to discuss pass/fail grading in the upcoming academic year, create a new ad hoc committee to address climate justice and charter a new student organization — Mac of All Trades. 

The meeting was the first since current MCSG Vice President Shreya Nagdev ’22 was elected President for the 2021-22 academic year. She won by a margin of just 10 votes over Student Organizations Committee (SOC) member Ayana Smith-Kooiman ’22. 

To begin, Smith-Kooiman motioned to create an ad hoc committee designed to support the Sustainability Office’s new focus on climate justice. 

“They’re trying to pivot more toward climate and environmental justice as a focus of their office,” Smith-Kooiman said. 

The motion passed 18-0, although the LB did not choose members of the committee during the meeting.

The LB then moved on to discuss the pass/fail grading system for the 2021-2022 academic year with the chair of the Educational Policy and Governance Committee (EPAG) James Heyman. The current pass/fail grading system was implemented in spring 2020 to help students navigate the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and distance learning. 

Under this system, students could choose pass/fail grading rather than traditional letter grades for any or all of their courses, including those required for their major. Prior to the pandemic, 6% of all classes taken by students at Macalester were graded pass/fail. That number increased to 12% in the fall, according to data collected by EPAG.  

“We’re hoping to return to normal academic instruction next year,” Heyman said. “We plan to restore the restrictions on pass/fail grading in courses on major or minor or concentration plans that was suspended this year.” 

SOC member Diana Paz García ’21 raised some concerns about the rescission of this policy. She noted that many students will still be feeling the effects of the pandemic next year, especially international and immunocompromised students. 

“Many of our Class of 2025 [international students] are unable to currently start the process to come to Macalester,” Paz García said. 

Financial Affairs Committee (FAC) member Mandy Ortiz ’21 echoed these concerns, pointing out the importance of “allowing students to decide … whether pass/fail is the best option for themselves.” 

“I think students are probably weighing the pros and cons of deciding to pass/fail a course, and I don’t think that it’s an impulsive decision,” she said. 

Heyman cited acceptance into graduate and further educational programs to explain EPAG’s position.

“Before the pandemic, many graduate schools and competitive programs would say ‘Well, we don’t know what this [pass/fail] is, so we’re going to assign this an average grade, which is a C,’” Heyman said. “Until we have strong evidence that that’s not the case, I’m very worried about encouraging students to take courses in their major pass/fail.” 

Heyman also noted that there are no restrictions on pass/fail grading with a written evaluation from the professor and that more data is needed to fully understand the effects of pass/fail grades on student engagement and graduate school acceptance rates. 

Although EPAG still plans to change the pass/fail grading system in courses that count toward students’ majors and minors, several aspects of the updated policy will remain the same next year.

First, students can continue to take as many elective courses as they want with a pass/fail grade. Before the pandemic, students could only take one of these courses per semester with that grading designation. Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) Chair Kareem Greaney ’21 discussed the importance of this decision. 

“The ability to take more than one elective class pass/fail should theoretically free up people to focus on their major courses,” Greaney said. 

Second, the deadline to designate pass/fail grading will continue to be the last day of classes. Last year, EPAG thought that this would lead to administrative challenges, but they never surfaced. 

“This was really a no-brainer,” Heyman said. 

Heyman also briefly discussed the future for other policy changes that were made to allow for extra flexibility during the pandemic. 

Heyman said that EPAG has yet to make a decision regarding the recording of classes. 

“We’ve all learned a lot about how to do this and what the benefits and costs are,” Heyman said. “It’s clear faculty understand that they can do this if they want, but we don’t know if we want to tell people yet if they have to record classes.” 

He also said that the future of instruction over the summer is yet to be decided and that module 5 will be “a big experiment.” 

The LB then discussed chartering a new student organization, Mac of All Trades. Introduced by Katie McCarthy ’22, Mac of All Trades is a service-based acapella group that operates through the Civic Engagement Center. Their primary goal is to share their music with people in the surrounding communities when it is safe to do so. 

According to McCarthy, the group plans to “establish relationships with schools, nursing homes and hopefully some festivals around the Twin Cities.”

The motion to charter the organization passed unanimously, 16-0. 

The meeting ended with class representatives going into breakout rooms to discuss logistics and dates for upcoming class nights, events designed to bring class members from across the community together. Over the next week, class representatives will prepare more specific information about these events.

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