The University of Richmond Faculty Senate passed temporary adjustments to grading policies on March 19 for the Spring 2020 semester because of the mid-semester shift to remote instruction due to COVID-19.
Kristen Osenga, Faculty Senate president and law professor, proposed the adjustments in a 9 a.m. Zoom meeting on March 19, according to Faculty Senate meeting minutes from that day. Jeffrey Legro, executive vice president and provost, sent an email on March 20 informing the campus community of the adjustments.
The adjustments include a special notation for the Spring 2020 semester to remind future readers of the COVID-19 pandemic, an extension on the deadline for students to withdraw from classes, a ban on giving out the punitive grades of incomplete (I), failure due to excessive absences (V) and withdraw failing (M) and a grading option of credit/no credit for students, according to the email.
Previously, no more than four student-opted pass/fail courses were acceptable for degree credit, according to UR's website. Classes that students opt to have graded on a credit/no credit scale in the Spring 2020 semester will count, according to the email.
“For each course they are enrolled in, undergraduate students in A&S, RSB, and Jepson will have the option to receive a standard letter grade (A-F) or to opt for Credit/Credit with a D/No Credit (C/CRD/NC)," Legro wrote in the email. "If a student earns a CR or CRD, they will earn a unit toward graduation for the course. Grades of CR/CRD/NC will not affect a student’s grade point average. Those who opt for a standard letter grade would have those grades count as usual in their GPAs."
Jennifer Bowie, Faculty Senate member and associate professor of political science, wrote in an email to The Collegian that discussions about grading policy adjustments began over the weekend of March 14.
“Over the past weekend some Senators began discussing and drafting a policy, by Monday several faculty via different online platforms voiced their thoughts and perspectives on the idea and also reached out to their Senators to see if this is something the Senate could take up,” Bowie wrote. “On Tuesday, March 17, a draft version of the new policy was emailed to the Senators for review. An emergency Faculty Senate meeting was convened for Thursday, March 19, to discuss and vote on the proposal.”
The credit/no credit option will allow students flexibility when adjusting to remote learning, Bowie wrote.
“The point of the [credit/no credit] policy is to recognize we are in extraordinary times and that we should give flexibility to students to help ease concerns and anxiety they have, in the wake of a global pandemic, as we make the transition from in person to remote learning in the middle of the semester,” Bowie wrote. “Per the policy students will be able to decide whether they want to select the CR/CRD/NC grading option and will have until April 24, 2020 to make that decision.”
Bowie wrote that the temporary adjustments are meant to help ease students’ concerns.
“As faculty we do not know what our students and their families will face in the coming weeks and the personal toll the global pandemic will have on them," Bowie wrote. "By allowing for flexibility and space [this decision] should in a small way help ease student concerns about what the unknown will bring to their performance in their courses.”
Kelling Donald, Faculty Senate member and chemistry professor, said the concerns of students were a main focus during the emergency Faculty Senate meeting.
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“[The Faculty Senate] tried to take into consideration some of the concerns that students have had, that they are facing various difficulties that have come up with this problem that we are all confronted with,” Donald said. “And what we tried to do [Thursday] morning was, at the senate was, try to take into consideration those concerns and to suggest a way forward for faculty that we hope will honor the responses of students and their efforts to continue to learn under these circumstances.”
Donald said the goal of the meeting had been to anticipate and mitigate challenges students might face once remote instruction begins.
“It’s a new situation for all of us, for students and faculty, because it’s not just learning online but it’s also learning online in contexts that persons were not prepared to operate in,” Donald said. “Some students are probably even still in quarantine. There are individuals who might be traveling or live far away in other places and so on.”
A UR student anonymously started a Change.org petition on March 16 to allow students to choose to grade their courses on a pass/fail scale for the Spring semester.
“In order to ensure that University of Richmond students feel as motivated and confident as possible to complete their credits this Spring 2020 semester, the University should move to let students choose to change any of their ongoing units to a pass/fail grading system so that these unforeseen circumstances do not negatively impact students' GPA's and they can focus, instead, on staying safe and healthy during this global crisis,” the student wrote in the petition.
The petition had 1,087 signatures at the time of publication.
Junior Emily Marie Breaux said she supported the idea of providing a credit/no credit option for students this semester. Breaux plans to apply to medical school and is concerned about maintaining her GPA during the period of remote instruction, she said.
“For myself, personally I’m hard of hearing and so I hate video and, like, call services,” Breaux said. “I need to be in-person or texting or else I need to have it repeated or subtitled over and over. So online classes are going to be hard for me to start with, along with the social isolation.”
Remote instruction causes an imbalance in opportunity for students because of varying access to resources, Breaux said.
“I’ve heard negative things that people think this is just for people who don’t want to work as hard, which I personally think is a very selfish viewpoint because not all of us are going home to a safe home with food and internet and plenty of entertainment where we know we’ll be healthy and safe,” Breaux said.
Junior Julia Feron said she would not want her classes to be graded on a pass/fail basis because she needs more grades for her law school applications.
“I really want to go to law school after Richmond, and since I just came back from abroad where those classes were pass/fail, I really need these classes for my GPA for my law school applications,” Feron said. “So it’s really important, at least for me personally -- and I know I’ve talked to some pre-med students who feel similar -- that I get at least a few classes with grades for my GPA.”
Feron said she was not opposed to allowing students to choose to have their classes graded on a pass/fail scale on an individual basis but did not support UR implementing pass/fail for all classes.
“I think pass/fail would work really, really well for some people,” Feron said. “I just know for me personally in my situation it would just make a situation that is already hard a lot more difficult.”
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