Western Carolina University students will be allowed to request grades of satisfactory or unsatisfactory for 2020 fall semester classes following a split-vote approval of a resolution of the Faculty Senate Wednesday, Nov. 18.
The action provides an extension of expanded grade options originally established for the 2020 spring semester, when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the sudden transition of classes from in-person to online.
Although university administrators and faculty leaders said earlier in the semester that the satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading options were designed for the spring semester only, a student-led petition drive and a resolution by the Student Government Association in support of extending the grading options for fall brought the issue back to the forefront.
SGA President Dawson Spencer presented the request as part of his regular update at the Nov. 11 meeting of the Faculty Senate, which tabled the matter following lengthy discussion. The Faculty Senate resumed discussion at an overflow meeting one week later, finally approving a resolution in support of the grading system change by a vote of 16-9, with four absences or abstentions.
Approval followed spirited debate in which some Faculty Senate members expressed concern about the impact of changes in course delivery methodology on students’ academic progress and how the stress of trying to maintain good grades during a pandemic is affecting some students’ mental health.
Other senators argued that the move could penalize those students who were maintaining stellar academic progress despite the pandemic because the extension of satisfactory/unsatisfactory grades would mean no students would be eligible for dean’s and chancellor’s lists again for fall semester.
Under the changes extended for fall 2020, 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.
As was the case in the spring, 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 (registrar.wcu.edu). With the end of the semester rapidly approaching and hundreds of students on track to graduate with modified commencement ceremonies set for Dec. 10-13, university officials will announce timelines for grade change requests as soon as possible, Provost Richard Starnes said after the Faculty Senate meeting.
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.