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The current scenario in the country is worse than it has ever been, with death tolls in the thousands and new cases in the lakhs every day. The whole situation has obviously taken its toll on the mental well-being of students, and while the admin claims to have put in place “new” policies to combat this, there is no real change for students from an academic perspective. The few policy “changes” so far include only the bare minimum, such as allowing students to give exams at a later date in case a family member is suffering from COVID, and a dead week before end-semester exams. Based on a survey conducted by a few departments, over 1000 students have been adversely affected by the pandemic. We don’t consider the administration’s response to be sufficient given the circumstances and we demand that they enforce some real changes.

The Case for S-Grades

The spring semester of 2019-20 saw the administration implement a policy where students could opt for a S grade as an alternative to the letter grading. The reason was that the evaluation conducted thus far was not considered sufficient, and there were logistical issues with conducting end semester exams.

While it was much appreciated by the student community back then, the Senate rejected a proposal to follow a similar policy this time around. This comes as a surprise, given that the situation for students is significantly worse than it was back then.

Given that it should be adopted after all evaluation is completed, the only possible downside to the S-grade policy is that it may reflect poorly on students’ transcripts. Allowing students to opt in to the S-grade solves this problem very easily. The reasons we require an S-grade policy are

  1. Students are unable to perform their best, and the effects of the pandemic are not uniform on everyone, making it pointless to compare students on the basis of marks scored.
  2. Getting a bad grade adversely affects the mental health of students, who have been slogging throughout the semester in the hope of obtaining decent grades.

These clearly outweigh the harms that such a policy would cause. With the situation as bad as it is now, students have enough stress in their lives, and they don’t need the added stress of worrying about grades. 

If the senate remains adamant on their decision about the grading policy, they need a very strong reason for the same, and there needs to be absolute transparency regarding the factors that were considered in the making of this decision. 

Simply allowing students to opt for the II-grade and give the exams later is just a way out for the admin. Here are all the problems with it:

  1. It only serves as a temporary measure, as students will have to eventually give exams, which effectively lengthens the semester for those who opt in to this policy.
  2. Most students typically have internships/projects in the summer, which is likely when the re-exams will be conducted.
  3. Students don’t get a real break, as even if they opt to delay exams, they are still burdened with the stress of exams in the near future.

Absolute Demand for No-fail Policy:

After the worsening of the pandemic in India, our institute has made no changes to the FR/failing policies. Had the current situation been similar to the situation at the end of the previous semester, this lack of changes may have appeared reasonable. The circumstances, however, are as dire as they ever have been.

It could make sense to fail students who have performed below a certain (usually very low) threshold set by the professor, if

  1.  All students are equally able to attend classes
  2.  All students are able to focus on their academics
  3.  All students are able to give their best in their examinations*

If any of the conditions above do not hold, failing students does not make any sense. It has serious negative consequences for a student. When all of the above do not hold, failing students would mean punishing them for situations that are not entirely in their control. 

It should be fairly obvious that points 1, 2 and 3 do not hold for everyone right now.

Thus, it seems perfectly reasonable to expect a strict and absolute NO FR POLICY for students, which is what we are demanding. To clarify, we demand that NO STUDENT fails any course in this semester unless they are guilty of indulging in academic malpractice. We also do not believe the FF policy is a solution. It does not ensure that all students pass, which is not acceptable.

It is the duty of the administration to ensure that no student suffers academically as a result of the ongoing pandemic. The current policy not only fails to protect the students but also puts them in harm’s way. Here’s how: 

  1. Given that some students are unable to perform at their usual level due to their circumstances, professors need to set their passing thresholds much lower than they usually do. There is absolutely no guarantee that all professors will adhere to this. Even in such trying times, professors can abuse their powers, unchecked. The institute watches on while we see cases of professors making their students’ lives hell.
  2. Students are forced to appear for end semesters even while facing difficulties. This is because they want to avoid academic activity in summers, when they are busy with internships, projects and other non academic activities. These students are essentially forced to choose between two harmful choices.

If “For IITB, the health and wellbeing of all students are more important than the exams they write”, why are such situations arising? Why is the administration allowing professors to fail students based on these very examinations?

If “it was decided that no student should suffer from the exam related stress during this extremely difficult time of the pandemic in the country”, why force students to appear for these exams now or later? Why does the administration think that no student is suffering from their decisions?

Most professors have conducted continuous and rigorous evaluation throughout the semester which has actually been far more demanding than a regular semester. Students have, at different points of the semester, been forced to make a direct choice between their academic performance and their mental and physical wellbeing. This is inhumane enough, but to fail them on top of all this is downright apathy. Empathy in letter but apathy in spirit is how the students perceive the attitude of the IIT Bombay administration.

What others are doing

Institutes across the nation have made changes to their grading policies to help students during the pandemic. Here are a few examples:

  1. IIT Kanpur- no-fail policy, 18 credits waived off for graduating students, professors were given the option of cancelling endsems, students were allowed to drop courses beyond the usual deadline.
  2. IIT Delhi – Students could opt to audit one core course and two electives, which will be counted towards their credit requirement, attendance requirements were waived, students were allowed to drop courses beyond the usual deadline, the passing mark for all courses was uniformly set at 30%.
  3. BITS Pilani- Students were allowed to opt out of their end semester exams, the syllabus for said exams was to be cut down to 50% of the course content, students were allowed to opt for a Clear grade if they scored over 20% in any course.

The demands we are making fall well within the bounds of reason, and need to be implemented if we are to have any belief in the administration.

*This list may not be exhaustive

Sources:

https://www.facebook.com/directoriitbombay/posts/1239447403183884

Email from the Director dated 22 April 2021