UI Senate to discuss revamped COVID-19 grade policy

By Willie Cui, Staff Writer

University Senate set to discuss CR/NC proposal, address concerns

In response to the ongoing pandemic, the University Senate will discuss proposal EP.21.062 on Monday afternoon. If approved, students will have the option to choose a “Pass COVID/No Pass COVID” grade mode and the drop deadline will be extended this semester.

While initial drafts of the proposal addressed additional concerns that the University had, the Senate Educational Policy Committee (EdPol) ultimately distilled it into two main points:

  • Extend the drop deadline to 11:59 p.m. on the “last day of classes” (for full semester and term B courses, this would be Wednesday, May 5)
  • Allow students to opt for a “Pass COVID/No Pass COVID” grade option for all courses during a six-day window from May 22 to May 27

When considering academic policy modifications, EdPol was in charge of drafting the proposal this semester, whereas last semester’s “No Record COVID” proposal originated from the Office of the Provost.

“We really started it back then,” said Kevin Pitts, vice provost for Undergraduate Education. “This time around, other than consultation, it was really the EdPol Committee that started it.”

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During the EdPol meeting last Monday, much time was spent discussing if the University should allow students with D grades to receive credit and how to do so under the proposal.

Normally, under the University’s established credit/no credit (CR/NC) policy, students with a grade in the D range who opt for CR/NC would not receive credit for that course.

“If a D is normally a passing grade, why would it not be passing for CR/NC?” Pitts said. “The answer is that’s because of the way CR/NC is defined.”

This left students with D grades in a Catch-22 situation, where they would have to choose between electing CR/NC and receiving no course credit, or keeping their D grade and receiving credit at the cost of a lower GPA.

Because the University cannot change the existing definition of CR/NC, EdPol decided to create a special grade category for this semester to allow students with D grades to receive credit, which Pitts believes is more in line with “the spirit” of the proposal.

“They’re really aligning the idea of CR/NC with the way we do our normal grading, and I think it makes a lot of sense,” Pitts said. “On the transcript, it’ll be ‘PZ’ for ‘Pass COVID’ and ‘NZ’ for ‘No Pass COVID.’ Those will be special symbols that’ll be in use this semester.”

Originally called “Pass/Fail COVID,” this grading option was later renamed to “Pass COVID/No Pass COVID” at the urging of Eric Meyer, associate professor of Journalism and EdPol committee member. 

“Just for simplicity, I would use the terminology ‘Pass/No Pass’ and it would be something that clearly is a limited COVID-19-related grade,” Meyer said. “‘No Pass’ is less of a scarlet letter against you than a ‘fail’ would be.”

Additionally, EdPol expressed concern that some students with failing grades last semester did not opt for CR/NC. 

“In this particular past semester, we had close to 2,000 students [with failing grades] who did not elect ‘no credit,’” said Linda Moorhouse, professor of music and chairwoman of EdPol.

Instead, these failing grades were changed unilaterally last semester by the University to ‘no credit’ at the request of the undergraduate deans.

While initial drafts of this semester’s proposal did include a section calling for grades of F or ABS (grade given for an unexcused absence from a final exam; equivalent to an F) to be automatically converted to “No Pass COVID,” this was later removed by EdPol because it can be done administratively at a later date. 

“We will leave that to the colleges to do,” Moorhouse said.

David Rivier, associate professor of MCB and EdPol committee member, expressed concern that the extended late drop deadline, originally set as the last day of final week, would result in inequities for students in courses with earlier final exams.

As a result, the late drop deadline was moved to 11:59 Central Time on “the last day of classes” before finals would begin.

There was also concern about potential GPA inflation as a result of expanded CR/NC policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Pitts noted that “everybody knew that this could be done” and “it is what it is.”

“It wasn’t really the main goal of expanded CR/NC. We were really thinking about how we could help out students that are struggling,” he said. “But at the same time, when you have policies like this, they’re available to everybody.”

A larger concern that the University has is the policy’s potential implications, and the effects they could have on students in the future.

“There’s an unknown on how this will play in the future,” Pitts said. “You could potentially have students who have three semesters worth of a whole bunch of credits.”

As a result, the University is hoping to make students aware that there could be potential side effects of having many courses graded as CR/NC. 

“What happens when they apply to med school, or employers who are looking at their transcript? Are they going to just say ‘Okay, that was COVID, don’t worry about it,’ which I hope they do, or are they going to handle it differently? We don’t know that,” Pitts said.

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