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UNM students can opt out of letter grades

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

About 98% of University of New Mexico courses are ready to be done remotely, and students will be able to opt out of letter grades – and either pass or fail each class – for the rest of the school year.

On the health sciences side of campus, leaders meet daily to talk about the virus, and the hospital has postponed hundreds of elective procedures to free up capacity in case it has a surge of COVID-19 patients.

UNM leaders held a virtual town hall Friday afternoon during which they talked about the various ways that the coronavirus pandemic has affected UNM, and how the school has responded. That made for a wide-ranging conversation for an institution that includes the state’s flagship university and only Level 1 trauma center.

For academics, UNM has already announced that coursework would be done remotely for the rest of the semester and commencement would be postponed. Provost James Holloway said nearly all coursework is set up for remote instruction, and the school launched programs to lend students laptop computers and provide them with grants for internet access.

“I’m amazingly impressed by the resilience and creativity of our faculty, our staff and our students in coming up with all these structures,” he said.

Holloway said the Faculty Senate approved a resolution expanding a “credit/no credit” option that students have. The resolution allows students to take courses and not have to worry about a letter grade, but essentially just either pass or fail the class. Students can decide whether they want to take a course using that option throughout the semester, according to university officials.

At the UNM Health Sciences Center, Dr. Paul Roth, the chancellor, said officials are meeting multiple times a day to discuss the pandemic. He said UNM Hospital, like other hospitals in the state, are making preparations in case they have to switch to what he called a “crisis level of care” if there’s a surge in COVID-19 patients.

“That is a big change in how we ordinarily practice medicine, from focusing on whatever it takes to save a life and reduce suffering at an individual level to also consider … what the needs of the full community night be, particularly as it relates to access to scarce medical resources,” he said.

Dr. David Pitcher, the executive physician of the UNM Health System, said the hospital has postponed about 300 elective procedures to save supplies in case there is a influx of COVID-19 patients.

As for the effects of the virus on UNM finances, university President Garnett Stokes said it’s too early to tell.

“We cannot predict the fiscal impact on our world, our nation, state or university,” Stokes said. “But we know it could be substantial, and we know UNM will not be alone in our predicament. There will undoubtedly be tough decisions that have to be made.”

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