Eastern Kentucky University has decided against adopting a pass-fail grading option for Spring 2020 courses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This information was relayed to students by Jerry Pogatshnik, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, in an email on March 30.

“We are fully aware of petitions, press articles, and adoption of such practices by UK, UofL and other institutions, including other regionals in Kentucky, and the encouragement by some to do so here. The position of academic leadership is we do not intend to implement expanded use of P/F grading at this time,” said Pogatshnik in the email.

Pogatshnik also noted in the email that from the university’s perspective, the argument in favor of pass-fail grading comes from a presumption of failure, one that Pogatshnik and the university feel that EKU’s students can overcome.

“Thus, arguments are based, at least in part, on the assumption of failure: that we are not up to the challenges COVID-19 presents; that we need to lower our expectations in response to this crisis. While I’m happy to concede that may be the case for other institutions, I don't accept that it pertains to EKU,” said Pogatshnik. 

The university’s decision was motivated by this as well as statements made by Carolin Walz, senior lecturer in the Department of English and Theatre, and a video of a graduation speech recommended by Lewis Diaz, chair of the EKU Board of Regents.

Because of an extenuating circumstance, Walz put all of her courses online, which brought up some questions by students, but no one dropped the course and “they all did fine,” said Walz. 

Walz’s example provides a precedent for students adapting to a new format and finding success. The EKU administration is using her example as evidence that students can adapt and be successful during the COVID-19 pandemic as well.

The graduation speech was given by Admiral McRaven at the University of Texas in 2014. He provided a list of ways to change the world. Number eight- step up when the times are the toughest motivated the university to refuse a pass/fail grading option.

Despite this rationale, some students are still upset by the decision. 

“I’m kind of disappointed with it, to be honest with you. Because it’s like they went against the word of the students and it’s not like we were wanting mandatory pass/fail, just a pass/fail option,” said Ryan Rhodes, a junior chemistry major from Grayson, Ky and the creator of the change.org petition that advocated for the pass-fail option. Rhodes’s petition has over 2,900 signatures at the time of publication.

Rhodes felt inspired to make the petition because he had seen that other schools such as the University of Kentucky had adopted a pass-fail option and saw it as a way to level the playing field for students that may need it. 

“Some students do not have the greatest learning environment at home and that hinders them from learning. Another reason is that the material was meant to be taught in the classroom and so that transition to online lecture could be tough for others,” Rhodes said. 


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