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WCU adopts optional satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading system for spring semester

Undergraduate students at Western Carolina University will have the option to request that they receive grades of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” for their 2020 spring semester classes, which have been disrupted by the global COVID-19 pandemic and moved online or to another alternative form of course delivery.

The WCU Faculty Senate passed a resolution endorsing expanded grade options for students for the current semester during an emergency videoconference meeting Wednesday, March 25.

“The rationale for this policy is that the stress of a quick shift from in-person to online instruction may have unintended consequences because the change of modality and content delivery might not be up to a faculty member’s own standards,” Enrique Gomez, chair of the Faculty Senate, said in a report to campus. “There are also equity concerns for students; many report being in places without adequate broadband access to receive this content and to be adequately assessed in their learning.”

Under the changes, faculty members will provide traditional letter grades as usual at the end of the semester. Students may accept their letter grade for a course or may request grades of satisfactory or unsatisfactory. A grade of satisfactory will be awarded, if requested, for any letter grade from A to C, and a grade of unsatisfactory will be awarded for any letter grade from C-minus to F.

Courses that are graded satisfactory or unsatisfactory will not be factored into a student’s GPA, but they will count toward completion of the degree and required number of hours.

Students will have the option to petition the Registrar’s Office to shift any or all of their courses to satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading by completing a grade change form that will be posted online ( on April 30, Richard Starnes, WCU’s interim provost, said in a letter to faculty.

“The Registrar’s Office team needs some time to write code and establish workflows for this new process,” Starnes said. “The form will be available and accepted through June 30, 2020.”

Undergraduate professional programs and graduate programs may not be able to provide this accommodation because of accreditation and licensure requirements. Faculty members who teach in an undergraduate professional or graduate program should consult with their department head or associate dean regarding which, if any, courses are eligible for this new grading accommodation, Starnes said.

In related changes, the deadline for students to finish any incomplete classes from fall 2019 has been extended from the end of the current spring semester until Dec. 14, 2020, and chancellor’s list and dean’s list designations are suspended for the spring 2020 semester. All student transcripts will include a note regarding the unusual circumstances of the semester.

“You have demonstrated tremendous grace and flexibility during this time of uncertainty, and I am grateful for the earnest dedication you have shown to the health and safety of our campus community,” Starnes said in his message to faculty. “Please know that our students and the entire campus community are grateful to you for your steadfastness and adaptability during this time. I appreciate each of you for your professionalism during this challenging time. Thank you for remaining focused on the success and safety of our students.”

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