November 16, 2020

Dear Faculty Colleagues,
As we reach the final weeks of the fall semester with another transition to almost entirely remote instruction, I want to express my sincere appreciation for all your efforts to make this semester's academic experience as positive as possible. I am very grateful for the extraordinary hard work that University of Maryland faculty have done this fall. I know that for many of you, it has been a huge adjustment, either to reinvent your courses for online and blended delivery or adjust in-person instruction to social distancing with everyone masked. While some faculty and students have struggled with these changes, I have been amazed to hear how engaged and connected many students and faculty feel as they have discovered new ways of teaching and learning together. I am deeply grateful for all your efforts to make this positive outcome possible.
We are also hearing from students having difficulties learning remotely and coping with stress from the pandemic, social unrest, and an uncertain political future for the country. Students say this semester has taken a toll on their mental and physical health - and I expect that many of you are similarly stressed. Some sample student comments:
  • The online learning environment is SO hard 
  • The pandemic, racial injustice and the election process has been very stressful
  • It is really hard to focus or concentrate
  • I am afraid to hang out with friends because I am scared I might get the virus
  • It is very hard to separate work from life
  • There are days that I am on Zoom from morning until night - I don't know the weather or get to eat - I have no motivation 
  • My family is struggling... several of my family members have significant health impacts
In recognition of this very real distress, I once again write to ask that you show your students empathy and flexibility, as the semester draws to a close and we undergo another round of change. If there are ways to reduce the pressure on students in your courses, while still achieving the essential learning objectives, I urge you to do so.
You may be aware that some students are advocating for a return to pass/fail grading this semester. For many reasons we have decided not to authorize such a change. We did so as an emergency measure last spring, but this is not a good long-term strategy. Because transcripts no longer accurately reflect students' work in courses, the pass/fail system can diminish options for graduate school or post-graduate employment, fail to fulfill professional requirements for certification and/or compromise student success if pass/fail allows them to progress in a course sequence or limited enrollment program without necessary preparation.
Rather than adopt pass/fail grading again, the university is extending the deadline to withdraw from a course until 10:59 pm EST November 30. This extension of the withdrawal deadline, (previously November 9) gives students an additional option for a class in which they are facing substantial difficulties, but avoids much of the corollary risk of pass/fail grading. A student may withdraw from a maximum of 4 credits or one course by the deadline through Testudo, with a W recorded on the transcript, which does not affect GPA. Students should consult the FAQs before making the change.
We are not able to extend the withdrawal deadline any later than November 30 without incurring a delay in recording semester grades and conferral of degrees. Last spring, such delays had deleterious effects on students, some of whom lost post-graduation job opportunities or could not sit for licensure exams because degrees were not awarded in time.
Please meet with students who are having difficulties and be creative and compassionate in your efforts to accommodate them. If they need additional academic support, please direct them to the resources on our tutoring website. If a student has completed most of the work for a course but runs into difficulties at the end, please be flexible about offering an incomplete (see the incomplete policy in the catalog). Please communicate with academic advisors if you support a student's request for such a no-penalty course withdrawal.
Thank you again for your fortitude during these difficult times. I wish you all the best for a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday and with the remainder of the semester.
Sincere regards,
Mary Ann Rankin
Senior Vice President and Provost
The Flagship Institution of the State of Maryland
College Park MD 20742-5035, USA
Phone: 301.405.1000