Ever since Emory announced on March 11 that it would shift to remote learning and suspend on-campus activities, the University’s teaching situation has been varied and unequal. As finals season approaches quickly, empathy is more necessary than ever for student success. The recent extension of the pass-fail option is a respectable gesture, but alone, it does not fully mitigate underlying issues of remote learning among Emory’s most vulnerable students. All faculty must infuse their teaching with ancillary compassion and leniency and readjust their teaching goals to accommodate students during these unprecedented, troubling times.
Emory faculty ought to rethink how they want to finish out the semester to adequately balance their teaching with student needs. In some classes, students that live within three hours of Eastern Standard Time have still been expected to attend live classes, forcing them to wake up as early as 5, 6 or 7 a.m. for a class that would normally take place at 8, 9 or 10 a.m. This is unacceptable — students should not be held to the same academic standard as before the pandemic. In the upcoming weeks, instructors should scrap plans for complex exams or lengthy term papers that may be difficult for students to complete through distance learning. Instead, instructors should attempt to be more understanding of student needs by minimizing their workloads and reaching out to individual students to gauge their personal situations.
While Emory’s decision to push back the pass-fail change deadline is preferable to the previous deadline of April 10, it is ineffective in alleviating all student concerns. Unlike a GPA floor or a universal pass-fail grading system such as the one at Yale University (Conn.), an opt-in pass-fail system that has a deadline falling on the last day of classes simply postpones and exacerbates the preexisting academic burden on students who are still forced to choose whether or not to pass-fail their classes.
In light of the hardships from the pandemic, we urge faculty to consider making changes to their syllabi and class structures to accommodate students on online learning platforms. Senior Lecturer and Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies Bree Ettinger told the Wheel that faculty have already considered alternative options for formal examinations. While Ettinger is giving take-home exams in which students can consult their notes, other faculty have considered more extreme options such as oral exams that would require students to answer test questions live on video chat. We urge all faculty to follow Ettinger’s example and make examinations more accommodating to students rather than forcing them to take high-pressure examinations that demand reliable internet access. Otherwise, students with different circumstances in terms of technological capacity or prep time will be unfairly leveled against each other.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also threatened many students with unexpected financial burdens and housing insecurities. Students with family members afflicted by the coronavirus also face further extenuating difficulties. This crisis is an extreme situation for the Emory community, and faculty must approach their classes with compassion and flexibility instead of assigning students more frequent and rigorous work.
This is not an opportunity to punish students to overcompensate for a perceived decrease in difficulty from online classes. Mitigating circumstances such as different time zones should incite sympathy from faculty instead of ignorance of their plight. Some lecturers have been recording all of their online classes to be watched asynchronously. This should not be determined on a class-by-class basis, however. We recommend a policy of recording all Zoom lectures and meetings for later consumption in case a student is not available to attend the synchronous class, and moreover, professors should assure students that they will not be punished for not attending live classes.
Students did not sign up to be in this situation in January, and it’s unfair to the community if University administrators and professors do not accommodate unforeseen tribulations. For many students at Emory, especially those in at-risk households, learning has taken a back seat to more pressing concerns — COVID-19 is a matter of life and death. The nation’s pandemic is not a normal situation, and it is unreasonable for anyone, including faculty and administrators, to treat it as such.
Just as professors have to realign their teaching goals, students also need to challenge themselves to persist as best they can. Students must be willing to meet faculty in the middle and put in effort to the extent to which they are able. But students must also be given leeway to focus on our own health and other concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus professors must reevaluate their original course expectations to provide flexibility and fairness in these unprecedented circumstances.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board.
The Editorial Board is composed of Sean Anderson, Brammhi Balarajan, Zach Ball, Devin Bog, Jake Busch, Meredith McKelvey, Andrew Kliewer, Boris Niyonzima, Nick Pernas and Ben Thomas.