MSU Campus Barnard Hall

A lone person walks past Barnard Hall in March 2020 at Montana State University in Bozeman.

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Montana State University is offering undergraduate students the chance to take all this spring semester’s classes pass-fail while they and their professors figure out how to move all in-person classes to internet instruction to avoid spreading the new coronavirus.

Students don’t have to decide now whether to keep regular letter grades. They can opt for pass-fail up to five days after seeing their grades posted at the end of the semester, MSU Provost Bob Mokwa wrote in his announcement.

Universities across the country are deciding that such extraordinary measures are “the right thing to do,” Mokwa wrote, to help everyone meet the challenges of the COVID-19 global pandemic and of delivering all courses online.

“This is going to be a very different way of learning for students,” Tracy Ellig, MSU vice president of communications, said Tuesday. “We want to provide flexibility.”

Mokwa, after consulting with the Faculty Senate leaders, sent a message Monday, the first day that all classes were expected to move online for the rest of the semester. He thanked professors and instructors for their “heroic efforts” to adapt, their spirit of collaboration and innovation, commitment to students’ success and “your grit.”

Students who choose the pass-fail option can do so for as many classes as they like. They must submit a form from the registrar’s website no later than five days after final grades are posted. Grades higher than C-minus would be counted as passing.

Passing grades would count towards all majors, graduation, scholarships, financial aid and applying to graduate school at MSU. Students’ grade point averages would not be affected.

Gallatin College students can also opt for pass-fail grades, Ellig said. MSU’s decision was made in consultation with the commissioner of higher education’s office, but only applies to the Bozeman campus. Each state campus is making its own grading decisions.

Mokwa’s announcement was welcomed by students with lots of “likes” on MSU’s Facebook page.

Taylor Blossom, student body president, said he was glad that the administration is recognizing the difficult situation facing many students and taking steps to make their education successful. So far, Blossom said, he has taken a couple classes online, watching lectures professors have recorded. Students can watch the lectures at times that work better for them, he said, or watch later if they’re in a different time zone.

In addition to classes moving online, advising, tutoring, help centers, disability services and the Student Success Center are offering to assist students online. Mokwa urged faculty members to watch out for signs that some students might disengage and for thoughtless discriminatory comments associating the virus with any ethnic group or nationality.

It’s never been more important to keep students engaged in classes and keep them from dropping out, the provost’s message said.

“Together we will get through this,” Mokwa wrote. “We may perhaps be better educators as a result of these experiences.”

MSU last week urged students on spring break not to return to the Bozeman campus but to return home if possible to avoid spreading the virus. The University System said it would offer prorated refunds of students’ dorm and dining hall fees.

Of the 3,650 students who would normally be living in the dorms in the spring, only about 500 were still living on campus in 12 residence halls as of Tuesday, Ellig said.

The University Health Partners announced the campus pharmacy is open normal hours Monday through Friday, closing at 4:30 p.m. Students needing prescriptions were asked to phone ahead if they planned to come in or to have their prescriptions transferred to their home pharmacy.

MSU on Tuesday urged employees to stay home if they or a family member are ill or even feel “off,” or if they recently traveled home from a country with a federal level-3 travel health notice. The commissioner last week encouraged campuses to be flexible and let non-essential employees “telework” from home, to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus, while keeping core functions going. Ellig said some offices are rotating employees with similar jobs to keep the services functioning.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.