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An Iowa State student has created a petition asking for one pass/fail option for the fall 2020 semester.

Editor's note: An individual quoted said the semester was 12 weeks long, but it is 14 weeks long. 

Iowa State junior in software engineering Nithin Sebastian has created a petition asking administration to allow every student to make one class pass/fail.

Sebastian has also received help from Sophie Young, Student Government director of student wellness, and Christopher Paulson, Student Government director of academic affairs, in pushing this petition to administration. Student body President Morgan Fritz is also aware of the petition.

In an update posted Wednesday evening, Sebastian said he has been told the matter will be brought to Associate Provost Ann VanDerZanden.

One reason Sebastian gave for creating the petition was the condensed format of the semester.

“It’s a condensed semester with no breaks in between,” Sebastion said. “Obviously, I know Iowa State was under a lot of duress to make a system in time to get this whole semester started, but the problem is that they shortened the semester and people are still taking the same normal credit loads.”

Iowa State made the decision over the summer to move up the starting and ending dates for the fall semester. Students will go home for Thanksgiving but will not return for two months until the spring semester begins.

“It kind of inflates the workload of people during the shortened timespan,” Sebastian said.

Sebastian continued to say Iowa State has not offered anything as a “buffer” to accommodate for this and that this solution seems fair.

“I understand Iowa State’s philosophy, too,” Sebastian said. “You can’t just go to college and take all pass/fail the whole time because that devalues the merit of your degree. … I think that offering one class pass/fail is a fair equalizer because it’s not devaluing the degree, for the most part. At the same time, it’s offering so many students an option to alleviate their stress.”

Senior software engineering major Ty Wallis posted the petition in the class of 2022 Facebook group to help it gain traction.

“All of my classes are currently online,” Wallis said. “Unlike some students, I am not opposed to the concept of online classes. ... I think some professors have transitioned to the new format really well, but others are struggling to realize that things are different now, and the students have to suffer the consequences.”

Wallis also said peer interaction is helpful to comprehend material at times, and having classes online reduces his ability to do that.

“Most professors have tried to make plenty of outlets for students to contact them, but there’s been no attempt to increase student-to-student contact/study groups," Wallis said. "Sometimes, it really helps to bounce ideas and questions around a group of fellow students when you’re stuck in a class.”

He also pointed out the difficulty of learning outside of a designated study space, such as a classroom.

That being said, Wallis said his biggest stressor isn’t having classes online.

“The biggest problem is that we are cramming 15 weeks of class into 12 weeks,” Wallis said. “That means that each week we have 20 percent more work to do than we did last semester. That means that 12 credit hours feels like 15 credit hours, and 15 credit hours feels like 18 credit hours.”

Wallis works part-time during the school year and said it feels impossible to work enough hours to pay his bills, put the necessary hours into schoolwork, get a healthy amount of sleep, maintain a healthy relationship with his girlfriend and take time for his mental health.

“Not having to worry about my worst class would take a major stressor out of my life and help keep me motivated to do good work,” Wallis said.

Both Wallis and Sebastian believe Iowa State had to balance keeping students motivated to work hard and keeping expectations high with making adjustments for COVID-19.

“They didn’t build their reputation as a prestigious university by giving out easy As or allowing students to cherry-pick which classes go on their grade report,” Wallis said. “But they need to realize that it is harder to learn material online, and giving us a higher workload on top of all the other stressors students are dealing with during this difficult and unprecedented time is bad for our mental health.”

Similarly to Sebastian, Wallis said offering one pass/fail class is a good compromise because it allows students to have one less thing to worry about.

The petition has already gathered over 2,000 signatures in the two days it has been live.

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