Op-Ed

Pass or fail
Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum.

The university is failing students by not applying the S/NS grading system throughout entire pandemic-era

The University of Ottawa is doing a disservice to students by not allowing a retroactive satisfactory/not satisfactory (S/NS) grade for those who took classes during the 2020 summer semester. The impacts of the pandemic did not magically stop from April to August and these students deserve the same options as everyone else.

The S/NS grading scheme was offered in the 2020 winter semester  as an emergency measure to help students deal with the pandemic and the abrupt shift to online learning. However, it was not offered in the summer and only became available in the fall thanks to the advocacy efforts of the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU). 

As we are now two weeks into the fourth pandemic-era semester, it is worth asking why has the U of O left students who took courses this summer  behind.

Perhaps the university higher-ups were concerned about U of O’s academic reputation and the potential negative impacts that could arise from letting students sweep a bad grade under the rug. That would explain why the university dragged its feet on offering S/NS grading this year and, had UOSU not grappled them into submission, the U of O may not have offered it at all. 

It took a UOSU petition with nearly 6,000 student signatures before the university conceded. As the summer semester is primarily a place for co-op students and those seeking to scratch off an elective or two, there likely weren’t enough voices to convince the university of anything.

But that was then. The university has proven that they are willing to take the potential hit to their reputation and have offered the S/NS grading scheme for 75 per cent of the pandemic. What is the issue with rounding that off to 100 per cent and allowing a retroactive S/NS grading for summer students? These students still had to deal with unfamiliarity of virtual learning. They still had to suffer the isolations of pandemic life. And many of them — myself included — had to try and cope with maintaining a decent GPA whilst losing family to the virus.

After the S/NS grading was made available in the fall, I went ahead and reached out to the university to ask why they had decided not to retroactively apply the option to the summer.

“The final decision was made by the president and the Vice dean offices [sic],” wrote Érik Côté, coordinator of registrar services. “The reason why we don’t go back to the summer term is that the grades are already official [sic]. As soon as the term grades are official, graduation proceedings are started and permanently [sic] locks the term.”

So summer grades can’t be changed because they are, apparently, already set in stone. But recent months have shown us that any tradition or long-held rule can be changed. 

The U of O has already made drastic changes to the way our education and grading works. They made an unprecedented change by taking us out of classrooms and putting us into online learning. The S/NS option is also something that goes against U of O tradition. Clearly the university can make changes to pre-existing rules. They just chose not to in this case, which is a real shame for summer students.

There is no telling what the future holds for students who spent part of their education in the pandemic-era. Stress, confusion and fear can and have impacted so many students in so many ways. The S/NS option is essential in mitigating these issues so that students can try and maintain some level of academic success. 

By not retroactively giving this option to the summer semester, U of O is making a statement that they will not aid students unless they are forced to. Students who took classes in the summer are now at a disadvantage when it comes to funding and applying to grad school, as their competitors who didn’t attend summer classes had access to a resource that was not available to them.

If the U of O truly values fairness and the wellbeing of their student body, then the S/NS option must be made available for every semester to mitigate the stresses of the pandemic. And whether or not grades have been made official is irrelevant: the university could have made the option available in the summer but chose not to. Nothing is set in stone, and the university can and should apply the S/NS option retroactively.