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Sunday, October 17, 2021

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Faculty Senate rejects credit/no credit proposal

In the past six months, there have been two movements to provide a credit/no credit option for students during the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, both of which were ultimately rejected.

The University Faculty Senate on Jan. 22 decided not to adopt a proposal that would have allowed students to take one class as a credit with a D, which means credit is received for a class where the final grade is at least a D-,  or no credit during the spring semester, Thad Williamson, president of the Faculty Senate and professor of leadership studies and philosophy, politics, economics and law, said.

A petition asking for these options to be given during the fall 2020 semester started circulating on Change.org on Dec. 6. Sophomore Thomas King, who declined The Collegian's request for comment, started the petition, citing concerns about mental health, among other things. 

“[B]eyond the damage to mental health, online schooling creates many barriers to effective learning," according to the petition's description. "Providing a pass/fail option like the previous semester would allow for students to continue succeeding and keep their academics in good standing." 

King also noted in the description that other Virginia colleges, such as the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University, had already decided to offer the credit/no credit option.

“To make this change late in the semester doesn't represent a failure or mistake of the University, it is just an adaptation to the new normal like many other updates to standard protocol,” King wrote in the description.

As of Feb. 16, 1,127 people have signed the petition. The petition has a goal of 1,500 signatures.

“I signed the petition because I felt like learning was extremely difficult last semester, and I felt like my grade in a certain class wasn’t equal to another person’s grade that took it a different semester,” junior Kathryn Grage said.

Grage also left a comment on the petition about the academic struggles she had faced over the fall semester, such as limited library access, having to pre-schedule office hours instead of being able to drop by at her convenience and taking finals in a loud home environment.

Junior Cameron Levy signed the petition because he had been concerned about the difficulty of the fall semester because of COVID-19, he said.

“COVID-19 has had a stressful impact on so many people, and schoolwork wasn’t everyone’s priority,” Levy said.

The Faculty Senate was aware of the petition in early December, but it was brought up too late to be acted upon for the fall semester, Williamson said. 

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Since the credit/no credit option could not be considered for the fall, the Faculty Senate delegated creating a proposal to the UR Academic Programs Committee, which is "a committee formed [by the Faculty Senate] for the purpose of accomplishing university faculty business," Williamson said. 

In the proposal created by the academic programs committee, each student would have the option to do credit with a D or no credit for one general education requirement or major or minor requirement, Williamson said.

The Faculty Senate collected feedback from the faculty, deans, the Office of the UR Registrar and student representatives before deciding not to adopt the proposal, Williamson said.

UR did offer a credit/no-credit option last spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the U.S. and the classes went remote after spring break. But, Williamson said those circumstances were different from this semester's.

“Everyone’s lives got completely disrupted in the spring and all faculty were put in the position of remaking our classes on the fly, as well as dealing with major disruptions to family life, schools being closed ... and, in some cases, not being familiar with the technology available," Williamson said. 

"I think it was in that particular context that it was deemed appropriate to create the most flexibility as possible, with the singular goal of allowing students to complete the semester successfully, to get credit."

Despite the Faculty Senate's rejection of the proposal last month, Williamson wanted to remind students that the faculty and Faculty Senate are always open to hearing about the experience of students — and if the semester alters, they will be open to making policy changes, he said.

“I think faculty as a whole are very aware and concerned by the stress the students are under," Williamson said. "I think within existing policy, there are mechanisms to reach out and seek help and to go to professors and share what’s going on. If you need an incomplete, if you need extensions, there’s opportunities for flexibility that way.”

Contact international editor Maeve McCormick at maeve.mccormick@richmond.edu.

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