MURRAY – Murray State University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tim Todd says the university will allow students the option of taking a pass/fail grade on certain classes if they get approval from their instructors and advisors.

Todd sent an email to students and faculty last week about the new grading policy, which is being implemented because of Murray State having to cancel in-person classes for the rest of the semester due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“In light of recent events, Murray State students will have the option to choose between receiving traditional letter grades or taking classes as PASS/FAIL this semester, with some exceptions,” Todd said in the email. “Details about an online request form, the approval process and a list of approved courses will be released soon. There is no rush to make this decision now; the University and your advisor will provide information so you may make an informed decision. The deadline to submit your request is Friday, April 24, 2020, and you may decide and/or change your mind based on your progress up until that date.

“NOTE: All Racer Academy (high school dual credit) courses will remain with traditional letter grading.”

The Murray State News previously reported that Drew Stanley, a Murray State sophomore from Paducah, had started a petition on March 20 on change.org asking the university to change the grading criteria to pass/fail grading for the spring semester. The petition’s goal was to reach 5,000 signatures, and as of Sunday afternoon, it had reached 2,983 signatures.

Todd said he had been aware of the petition, and though it was not the reason for the policy change, it was taken under consideration.

“We listen to students, so all of us were aware of the petition,” Todd said. “That did not drive the decision, but it was a data point and we appreciated the student’s involvement. When you look across Kentucky and across the nation, other universities and colleges – from MIT and Columbia to Orange County Community College – are all doing this type of thing, trying to give some ease to the students. It’s a student-driven decision, but instead of just making the decision for everybody, we wanted to respect the notions of shared governance – which we hold dear at this university, at least – and we wanted to involve the faculty in it, because they own the curriculum.

“This policy does three things: first, through shared governance, it allows the faculty, who own the curriculum, to decide what course they approve for optional pass/fail grading. That process is going on right now. Faculty from across the university are virtually meeting and having discussions on their curriculum … and the faculty are making the choices on what course can go optional pass/fail. That decision is due on Tuesday, and once that happens, we’re asking the department chairs to compile that list and get all those to each dean. Then we’re asking the deans to forward all of that to the provost’s office. We will clean that up and make it look good and create a master list of courses that are pass/fail optional.

“The second phase of that will be sharing (that master list) with the students. The students can simply look at that list and if they’re enrolled in one of these courses and they decide they want to be pass/fail, then they can make that choice. There will be a Google Form created for that.

“Then, after the student fills that out and wants to do pass/fail in X, Y or Z class, that form is triggered to the student’s advisor. The student advisor has the final say in approving that course or not. What that means is (for example), if you’ve got a JMC major and he or she is taking Biology 101 as an elective, if the biology faculty said it was OK for Biology 101 to be a pass/fail course … then the JMC major who is in that Bio 101 can say, ‘Yes, I want this to be pass/fail.’”

Todd said in that particular case, the JMC advisor would probably approve that elective class to be a pass/fail grade. However, if a nursing major were taking Biology 101, that pass/fail option would be vetoed by a nursing advisor because it is a prerequisite to get into the nursing major, Todd said.  

“All of our students are astute, but we’ve got a little shy of 10,000 students, so there’s going to be some hiccups in this,” Todd said. “But bottom line, there are three things I think this process does. It’s faculty-generated and then students have a choice and then the student advisor has the final approval. We did not do what other universities in Kentucky have done and just say everything is pass/fail – because that’s not appropriate, in my opinion.”

Todd said the April 24 deadline for students to decide whether they want to request the pass/fail option for any of their classes should hopefully give them enough time to make the best decision for themselves.

“That’s close to the end of the semester, so if they’re performing well, why would the student want to make that choice?” he said. “I would say the majority of our students will not choose pass/fail because the majority of our students do a good job in their classes. But I don’t know that yet because we don’t have the data yet.”

Todd said the university expects to get all the relevant information about the pass/fail option out to students early this week.