Students at OSU

 Several Oklahoma State students walk the campus with masks on the first day of the semester in August.

Oklahoma State senior Lacey Hickey had just taken a pretty tough exam and knew that some of her classmates had a tough time with it, so she shared an online link to a change.org petition with them.

Hickey had gotten the idea from OU, and thought she would take a chance with own of her own.

“Hey, for anyone in this class who might need this right now, pass it around,” Hickey recalled.

By the next morning, her petition for OSU to give students a pass/fail option over letter grades hard garnered more than 1,000 signatures. It slowly built to around 3,000 and with a little bump from news coverage, was approaching 5,900 by Wednesday evening.

“I was vocalized something that so many other students were thinking but didn’t know how,” she said.

Hickey by now has received her answer. Last week, the provost’s office thanked her for her message, and being proactive, but OSU would not be providing a pass/fail option this semester.

“Oklahoma State University places the highest priority on student success. Last spring, during an unprecedented health crisis, we made an emergency decision to move classes fully online and to grant a pass/no pass grading policy for the spring semester. We have approached the fall semester quite differently, with a planned approach to academic delivery and other protocols to support student success. I shared your petition with faculty leadership, the Deans and my leadership team in the Provost’s office. All agreed that we should not modify our carefully developed plan for this semester. We fell that we have a good system in place,” Provost Gary Sandefur wrote. “Traditional letter grades are often preferred to pass/no-pass grades for international students and those who plan to pursue graduate programs, professional licensure or certifications. In addition, letter grades are better indicators of academic progress in foundational courses that are required to progress further in a course sequence. Pass/no-pass grades can also result in unintended negative consequences for students receiving federal aid, scholarships or VA education benefits.”

If students were given a choice, though, Hickey believes many in competitive areas would choose the letter grade. She said that’s what she did last semester and it’s what she would choose again.

“I really felt like the option gives a little bit of compassion and just the ease of stress on students,” she said. “Some of the pushback we’ve been getting is, ‘Engineering students are competing for their spots to continue on their program or people going for certifications or grad school programs and scholarships, and stuff like that. To that, I say, I didn’t take the pass/fail last semester. I got a 4.0. I’m typically a 4.0 student, so if you have competitive grades and you’re going after those things, I’m not sure why you would take the option. The point being that it’s there for those students who need it.”

The next step might be to see if OSU’s student government will take up the cause. Hickey said she has been helping an off-campus organization craft a recommendation for student government to get the provost’s office to reassess the petition.

“Personally, I don’t know a single person that isn’t struggling whether that be mental health, academic, social life or all of them,” she said. “So, I can really tell that the pandemic is taking a toll, not only on us as students, but as a campus.”

After recent student deaths, some which have been investigated as suicides, Hickey is regretful that the two issues have been stitched together. Her petition began prior to the most recent deaths and she said that while mental health was a big part of why she chose to pursue pass/fail for students, she didn’t want to be seen as exploiting those deaths for momentum.

“The response I got from the provost’s office kind of came at the same time,” she said. “I felt it was really unfortunate timing, and I didn’t want to politicize the death of fellow Cowboys to get across why point, but I think it’s worth noting that people are struggling and the mental health accommodations on campus, while doing better in year’s past are not where they need to be.”

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