‘GIVE STUDENTS REFUNDS’: Colleges blasted for remote learning, refund policies

Students stress graduation, success in spring semester as colleges go online

– By Gabriel Pietrorazio

While college students are stuck at home because of the coronavirus, some are organizing online to support pass-fail learning in response to this disruption, even across upstate New York.

Colleges both public and private have been mobilizing on the online petition platform Change.org in an effort to make their voices heard by school administrators. 

In addition to the CUNY schools downstate, SUNY Geneseo senior Tucker Landwehr has created a petition with a statement, which reads:

In these stressful times, that are only getting worse, students learning at home do not have the same amount of resources. Without study groups, TA’s, and office hours, it may be hard to achieve the grade you would’ve liked in a class. However, students who were doing extraordinarily well in the first half of the semester, should be allowed to keep their grades. In a time where everyone is learning in a different remote environment, this is the only fair way to allow students to achieve the grades they can in some classes, while other classes may be much more difficult at home and should become pass/fail classes.

To this date, the SUNY Geneseo petition has gathered 771 signatures in support of this decision since March 18th.

Those who sign any petition are allowed to air their grievances publicly online underneath the “Reasons for signing” section.

While students across the state are self-isolating and practicing social distancing techniques, the “Reasons for signing” section acts as a public stage for frustrated students to vocalize opinions, and sometimes even simply vent.

These comments are some of the most telling and share perspectives from supporters, primarily students.

Natalie Hayes, a graduating senior at SUNY Geneseo explained why she supported the petition.

“I feel strongly that classes should be pass/fail on the basis that I am not paying for, nor did I sign up for, online classes. My classes are, by their very nature, discussion-based and, therefore, extremely difficult [if not impossible] to replicated perfectly online,” Hayes told FingerLakes1.com.

“My biggest issue with all of this, though, is that a lot of students are not equipped to learn remotely; students with learning disabilities, students who rely on their campus’ educational resources, and students who come from unstable home situations and are being forced to move back are put at a tremendous disadvantage in all of this. Inevitably, those students’ grades are going to take a hit,” she continued.

Most of all, Hayes acknowledges that this situation is an “overwhelming adjustment,” one that shall certainly impact her ability to study and function as a student while at home.

“This is a tremendous and overwhelming adjustment for students. We’re moving, with less than a week’s notice, across states and countries, and still expected to catch up and stay caught up with homework and then immediately start up the semester again,” Hayes concluded.

Nearby Syracuse University senior Meenu Pillai created a petition called “Make Syracuse University’s remaining online courses pass/fail,” which reads:

“Due to the sudden outbreak of COVID-19, many universities, including Syracuse University, have decided to transition from in-person to online classes. These online classes place a burden on students who have no access to the internet or students who excel in physical classroom environments. Not to mention, thousands of international students face time and location pressures. It is unethical to continue classes of all majors to online education. Online education does not account for courses that require physical presence due to many materials that are not available online, such as studio and lab courses; proving to be an inadequate way to educate, grading for the semester should be pass or fail rather than the conventional grading system.”

As of the publishing of this article, 2,791 have signed this petition.

Some feel cheated out of their educational experience due to these unforeseen circumstances like Shay Kinney Leonhardt, calling that “this semester should be a do-over.”

Christian Ward also shared similar thoughts on the subject, suggesting that he did not sign-up for online instruction hence why he attended university in-person.

For others including Angela Martinez, this transition has been dually crippling one as a student who was supposed to be studying abroad this spring.

Heading south toward Cayuga Lake, Kelly Zygmunt, a senior at Cornell University initiated the “Pass the Catastrophe” petition, which reads:

When World War I resulted in hundreds leaving Cornell without returning, the university created the special certificate of “War Alumnus.” This was granted to all in good academic standing who had completed two years at Cornell & two years of national service, but didn’t finish their degrees.

This precedent stands to support the hundreds of students that are being forced to leave campus and not return due to the current pandemic. With only two weeks of classes left after spring break to complete half a semesters of work, attaining the grade you would have without this catastrophe will be next to impossible. Prelims that would have been dropped could determine whether you pass or fail and without office hours it could be difficult to truly learn and succeed. 

Sign this petition to support the implementation of “Pass by Catastrophe” which will allow all students in good academic standing to pass their current classes with no change to GPA. 

With only a handful of supporters at 63 signees since March 2nd, a small percentage of students are critical about the issue

Meanwhile Big Red’s neighbor at Ithaca College has their own petition as well, and started by Darius Elmore, another senior.

The petition titled “Classes should follow a Pass/Fail method for the remainder of the semester” reads:

In light of the global pandemic novel, COVID-19, and the suspension of in-person courses, all students should have the option of following a pass/fail method for the remainder of the semester. 

We, the student community at large, request this academic approval in light of unprecedented circumstances to accommodate the needs of every student affected by this public health crisis. This initiative will not only serve students with underlying cosmetic DNA of approved academic and artistic accommodations, but those who will have limited resources to effectively demonstrate their grasp of an academic and/or artistic subject matter solely in a remote manner.

Additionally, with Ithaca College’s commitment to excellence, this will further validate the integrity of how we best serve the needs of all students on a universal level; thereby, prioritizing the infrastructure — i.e. student body — that grants any institution the perpetuation of the legacy for which it holds.

Within a week, 2,235 signatures have been cast on behalf of this petition, nearly meeting its goal of 2,500.

At Ithaca College, students have been critical of their response to the coronavirus, especially when it comes to calculating the finances.

Students like Carly Fae are calling for refunds on all fronts.

“Give students REFUNDS (not discounts) for their meal plans that are already overpriced and on campus housing. Give students money back for having to do the rest of this semester online,” Fae demanded.

Another student, Mya Martin also agrees with Fae’s comments, asking for the institution to refund housing costs in addition to offering the option for students to pass-fail online coursework.

In similar fashion, Pat Visceglia considers how students who were once reliant upon on-campus employment.

Since the campus has been effectively shut down like the rest of the state, finding new minimal wage employment to cover educational costs while completing academic coursework is an advantageous challenge to balance. 

“We pay more to be in a physical brick and mortar school. This isn’t what we are paying for even if you want to pretend it is and not refund us,” Visceglia commented.

In Ontario County along Seneca Lake, Hobart and William Smith Colleges students have been vocal online, advocating for two different approaches to address the grading situation amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Instead of an individual or group of students, a collective of HWS students a petition titled “Hobart and William Smith Colleges Pass/Fail,” which states:

“Hobart and William Smith Colleges has chosen to shift to online courses for the foreseeable future amid the Corona Virus crisis. There is a large chance this will continue until the end of the semester. We, the students, have found it difficult to concentrate on our courses during this time and feel a large amount of pressure coming from classwork. We feel our grades will be greatly effected and believe changing to a system of pass/fail would help thousands of students. Other colleges and universities have already made this shift because it seems reasonable to give students the option. We hope this reaches our president, Joyce Jacobsen and the Hobart and William Smith College board as we feel our voice is important to the institution.”

To this date, the petition has acquired 789 signatures within a week.

Axel Forsgren, a senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges was one of the several hundreds who signed the petition.

“The reason I decided to attend Hobart and William Smith Colleges is the small class size along with the support the professors give. Learning online is more restrictive and not as coherent,” Forsgren told FingerLakes1.com.

Aaron Tsuchitori another student at the Colleges attested to the challenges that college students face when not residing in the same time zone as the institution.

Nearly 80 percent of the total student population resides in New England and other Northeastern states, which falls within the Eastern Daylight time zone.

“As a student of HWS who’s home time zone is 6 hours behind that of HWS, I know my grades will suffer as I try to keep up with my school work at home,” Tsuchitori commented.

The second petition at the Colleges has been circulating online called “Hobart and William Smith Double-A Grading Policy” aims at offering students an A or A- for each enrolled course for this semester.

The petition statement reads:

Under a Double-A system, students would receive credit for all of their courses and a grade of either “A” or “A-” on their transcript. Faculty can distribute between these two A grades at their own discretion, with no mandated distribution requirements. No student will be penalized for factors and circumstances outside of their control. Every student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges will receive one of these grades in all of their courses and receive credit towards their concentration, distributional requirements, and graduation. In the context of a graduate program and employment applications, students have the option to ask for a transcript annotation explaining the extenuating circumstances of the pandemic that led to the college-wide grading distribution. Faculty recommenders will also be instructed on best practices to address this semester in their letters for students in the upcoming years.

Students are currently operating under extraordinary circumstances. This should be reflected on their transcripts. A grade of “A” or “A-” along with an explanation of the context of the pandemic would buffer the potentially negative connotations of a grade of “Pass” for future employers and graduate admissions officers. Further, with a Pass/Fail system, students are still at risk of failing. Additionally, with some professional schools (i.e. medical schools) and certifications (i.e. ABET) requiring letter grades for verification, this system ensures that no student is put at a disadvantage due to an opt-in pass/fail policy. Lastly, Pass/Fail is currently only permitted for concentration requirements by some departments. Double-A would be standardized across the College and all courses, regardless of concentration, and will still satisfy any distributional and concentration requirements they were previously allotted to.

We are operating under the standards set by a Harvard Petition for the same cause. The link is below: 

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pyLpVnacUhzN1jM0cYFEDtbg0IPJECDH5-u0zTKhf5I/mobilebasic

Adopting their resolution from the #HarvardforAll movement online, Harvard University students have advocated for a Double A grading policy for this spring semester.


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