Faculty Senate Passes Resolution Proposing Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory Option For Spring 2020 Classes

Penn State’s Faculty Senate passed a resolution Tuesday that proposed giving students the option to take classes on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis during the spring 2020 semester. Under the new resolution, which is in response to the coronavirus remote learning period, no students would be placed on academic probation or suspension after this semester.

Faculty Senate met for a brief virtual special meeting to discuss the resolution after its normally scheduled meeting. The resolution for a temporary satisfactory/unsatisfactory policy passed with a 96-23 vote, so the resolution will advance to administrators. To clarify, nothing concrete changed with the vote, but a plan to allow students to opt into receiving either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” marks for classes this semester is in motion.

Under the proposed policy, students would be able to change the grading basis from a quality grade (A, B, C, etc.) to either satisfactory or unsatisfactory until the last class day of spring 2020 for any number of their classes. However, if implemented, this policy would require students to consult with their academic advisors and instructors to consider any potential academic and financial implications.

According to the resolution, a satisfactory/unsatisfactory option would address “legitimate concerns about the impact of remote learning on their grades and academic success” and provide “flexibility and options that will allow [students] to make academic progress and adjust to new learning environments.”

Unlike the existing satisfactory/unsatisfactory policy, students would be able to declare it on gen-ed courses and on as many courses as they’d need. Under the current policy, students can take only two courses on that basis per semester and only 12 such credits total during their college careers.

A bit of discussion within Senate broke out as senators voiced concerns over the effects of the decision and their support of students during this challenging period. Some concerns included whether the decision would demotivate students, send the wrong message that “we’re just going through the motions” with classes during the next few weeks, or not be fair to students who had done well in classes during the first half of the semester. However, as evidenced by the lopsided vote, many senators were very much in support of catering to students’ needs.

Cynthia Simmons, who represents the Bellisario College of Communications, cited input from several professors in her college. In addition to a few concerns like the ones above, Simmons included a response from instructor Katie O’Toole, who suggested that the new policy would allow professors and students alike to focus on learning during the remainder of the semester and not on adjusting grading and lowering the standards for “A work.” O’Toole teaches classes on radio reporting TV production and said because students are not at school, they are unable to use the tools that would allow them to create work worthy of an A grade.

While Senate discussed the resolution, student senator Diego Santos — also UPUA’s Academic Affairs chair — asked if extending the late-drop period by two weeks could be added to the resolution. Education professor Mary Beth Williams, who proposed the resolution, responded that this had previously been considered, but that the late drop deadline can’t be changed because it’s set by federal financial aid requirements.

Provost Nick Jones noted that the resolution looked legislative and asked Senate to modify language so it was clearer that it was an intent to investigate, not actual legislation. Jones said a group is already looking into introducing a similar policy.

“At this point it is investigative,” one senator who was present in the room said. “There is nothing binding about this legislatively. It’s simply a resolution.”

During the special meeting, Senate also discussed a second resolution to ensure SRTEs would be used only as formative (and not summative) feedback for both graduate instructors and faculty this semester. It also passed with a 106-9 vote, albeit with a bit less discussion.

“Shared governance in moments that are so extraordinary as this don’t look like every day life,” said associated dean for advising and DUS executive director David Smith to end the meeting. “This is not what we’re accustomed to and it doesn’t look like it, but you need to do what you need to do.”

Editor’s note: The original version of this story used pass/fail and satisfactory/unsatisfactory interchangeably, which the terms are not. We apologize for this confusion, and the errors have since been corrected.

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci was once Onward State’s managing editor and preferred walk-on honors student who majored in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected]. All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.

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