The global pandemic has shaken up the world and altered the schedules and daily lives of millions. Among those facing these changes are students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Many students at UT are struggling with classes this fall and have expressed the need for academic aid and assistance such as the spring 2020 satisfactory/credit/no credit grading scale. However, hopes for this aid disappeared on Oct. 20 when the UT Faculty Senate Undergraduate Council voted against implementing a similar grading scale for the fall 2020 semester.
College in a pandemic
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, made the decision in March of 2020 to switch classes to remote learning. The transition was difficult for many students and faculty members. Everyone went from sitting in class one week to being back home behind a screen the next.
Communication was difficult with remote learning and there was a disconnect between many students and their education. There were also other aspects of the switch that impacted students. Many did not have places to return to, faced food insecurity or were dealing with family members affected by the virus.
Former UT provost and senior vice chancellor David Manderscheid expressed the extent of difficulty and thanked faculty and students for their efforts in an email back in May.
“We are all learning and adjusting in real-time to this new academic landscape,” wrote Manderscheid. “We appreciate greatly the time and effort it has taken our faculty to move their courses online, the countless hours our staff has spent moving services and resources online, and the resilience of our students to adjust to a new way of learning.”
It was for many of these reasons and overwhelming changes that UT implemented a satisfactory/credit/no credit grading scale. This was designed so the hardships and abrupt shift brought about by the pandemic did not severely hurt the academic success of UT students.
The S/C/NC grading scale was for classes that had an A-F grading scale. For classes where the final grade was C and above students would receive satisfactory, C minus through D minus would receive credit and F received no credit.
Fall grading scale proposal
This fall semester has also brought a great deal of difficulty as many classes are still online and several students are learning from home. Other aspects such as lowered resources, communication disconnects, isolation and more are sending UT students spiraling.
Therefore UT SGA Undergraduate Senate members, Aubrey Robinson and Evan Mays crafted bill 06-20 that would allow the S/C/NC grading scale for the fall semester. There were a few aspects that the student senators stressed during the undergraduate senate’s review of the bill before voting.
Students would have the option to use this grading scale in place of letter grade classes on a class by class basis. This means that students could choose which classes if any, they wanted to use the S/C/NC grading scale with. In addition, Robinson and Mays also suggested a deadline to switch to this optional grading scale in order to avoid the late switches that occurred in the spring semester. They also wanted to encourage students to consult their academic advisors before making the switch.
The bill passed in the undergraduate senate with 45 in favor, one against and one abstention.
The next step for this bill was to be reviewed in the UT Faculty Senate. Before they could review the bill as an entire senate it first had to go through the Undergraduate Council. The bill was reviewed during the council’s Oct. 20 meeting, but the outcome left many students disappointed.
Logic and reasoning UGC’s decision
The bill did not pass through the Undergraduate Council. There are several factors that went into the decision.
First, the process for substantially reviewing and passing a bill through the UT Faculty Senate can take about three to four months. Bills or issues regarding undergraduate academics must first go through the Academic Policy Committee. This is the first body to review them. Next, they go to the Undergraduate Council. After this, they are brought to the Faculty Senate Executive Council and finally the Faculty Senate general meetings.
By the time the bill was brought to the attention of the Faculty Senate, the Academic Policy Council had already had their meeting for the month. This alone had already placed a time-crunch on the bill review. The Undergraduate Council expedited the process by reviewing the bill at their Oct. 20 meeting.
The fall semester also differs in circumstances from the spring semester, according to the Undergraduate Council. The spring semester featured an abrupt shift to remote learning that no student signed up for. Students entering into the fall semester knew the format of classes were going to be online.
Financial aid was also a key concern. During the spring semester, many financial aid sources had already waived their requirements to continue receiving aid. Therefore, the switch to the S/C/NC grading scale did not impact most students’ scholarships. However, since requirements have not been waived for the fall semester many students who would choose to switch to this option could lose their financial aid.
In addition, many graduate schools have already declared that they would not accept an alternative grading scale for any other semester than spring 2020. Therefore the scale would not aid students looking to pursue graduate school.
Many of these problems could be waived with the optional objection as well as consulting an academic advisor. Regardless, these were the main reasons that the bill died on the Undergraduate Council floor.
Associate Vice Provost for Student Success, Leonard Clemons spoke at the council meeting on how he and his team are working to help students succeed and plans to put a group together to offer aid and assistance to students.
The result has affected many UT students. Several taking to social media platforms such as Reddit and Twitter to express their aggravation and disappointment.
One student on Reddit, after hearing the reasoning for why the bill was not approved commented on their confusion about the situation.
“Still I think we can decide that for ourselves and understand the consequences of our actions without the senate interfering, can’t we?”
Evan Mays, a co-author of the bill in the SGA Senate tweeted about the decision.
Students want a Satisfactory/Credit/No-Credit grading scale (commonly known as pass/fail). UTK’s Undergraduate Council, a council in the Faculty Senate, voted against bringing that back yesterday. pic.twitter.com/Z0MtvJtKr0
— evan mays|BLM (@evan___mays) October 21, 2020
As seen in May’s tweet, students are even taking their disappointment to the Rock to make their voices heard.
For students struggling with changes and challenges brought about by COVID-19 have multiple resources available on campus and virtually. Academic resources include the Academic Success Center, the Math Place and the Writing Center. For those struggling with food insecurity, check out Smokey’s Pantry. For health and wellness, the Student Health Center offers general health, COVID-19 testing and counseling.
Edited by Donna Mitchell and Christian Knox
Featured phot courtesy of @evan___mays Twitter