The Academic Senate — a collective of faculty members at UC Santa Barbara — recently extended the deadline to change grading options for courses from letter grade to pass/no pass until the end of Week 10, but Associated Students and others within the UCSB community continue to ask for greater flexibility in grading.
Though the window to change grading options is officially over, the goal of the Academic Senate’s extension was “to provide an additional option for students who were experiencing unexpected additional stress … due to the worsening of the pandemic locally and across the country,” according to Mary Gauvain, Academic Senate chair.
The extension, however, didn’t allow departments to enable pass/no pass (P/NP) options for pre-major or major courses, unlike during Spring Quarter 2020. Aside from UC San Diego, which left P/NP policies up to the discretion of certain departments, programs and colleges, UCSB remains the only UC campus to restrict students from changing grading options for major and pre-major classes this fall.
Gauvain said in a statement to the Nexus that UCSB has not opted to allow students to take major classes P/NP because “the decision to take major classes P/NP can have serious academic consequences for a student’s program of study, standing and future options.”
But due to the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, members of Associated Students (A.S.), as well as others in the UCSB community, continue to advocate for grade reform actions to accommodate the hardships associated with online learning for future remote quarters.
On Nov. 24, fourth-year earth science major Catherine Ng created a petition on Change.org prior to the Academic Senate’s decision, calling on UCSB to join the majority of other UC campuses in allowing students to take major classes P/NP for fall and future remote quarters, citing academic difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Dec. 13, the petition has amassed over 2,500 signatures.
Inspired by a similar petition created by a UC Berkeley student asking for the university to allow students to take major classes P/NP, Ng got to work creating her petition with the goal of “see[ing] how the students respond” and getting the attention of the administration.
“I was frustrated when we found out that the accommodation that we were given in spring would not be extended to fall … I saw that a student petition at UC Berkeley had been successful in enacting that change, and I think seeing all the other universities that were giving this option to their students and to have UCSB not be a part of that, that’s when I … felt like this needed to be something that I did,” Ng said.
After publishing the petition, Ng said there was an “overwhelming response almost immediately of people reaching out.”
The petition, coupled with a Google form that asked students to further explain why they signed it, provided four reasons for allowing P/NP major classes. These included: the challenges faced by students as a result of COVID-19 require “a flexible grading option”; a student’s success in a class cannot be accurately represented by a letter grade during remote education; pass/no pass would be a more equitable way to measure academic success during a pandemic; and UCSB is one of two UC schools that hasn’t adopted measures for flexible grading.
A few days after the petition was published, Ng was contacted by fourth-year history of public policy major and former A.S. Senator Eric Moon, who, along with A.S. President Tianna White and fourth-year political science and environmental studies double major Lea Toubian, student-sponsored a senate resolution titled “To Address The Need For Remote Learning Grading Flexibility.” The resolution was authored by On-Campus Senator Gurleen Pabla and seconded by College of Letters and Science Senator Hayley Slater.
Beyond calling on the Academic Senate to extend the P/NP deadline for this quarter and allow major classes to be taken P/NP, the resolution is also asking the Academic Senate to apply those changes to all future remote quarters.
“It is morally irresponsible to maintain a normal grading policy amidst a global crisis,” the resolution read. “It is the duty of the Academic Senate to prepare a well-developed plan on how to best address students’ concerns and needs.”
While numerous senators expressed adamant support for extending P/NP to major courses, two points of disagreement arose over the resolution: whether students on academic probation would be allowed to P/NP classes, and whether students should be allowed to retroactively drop classes.
Though neither of these actions were included in the resolution, A.S. senators called on the Academic Senate to implement them.
Students under academic probation are not allowed to P/NP classes with a letter-grade option, according to the UCSB general catalogue, but multiple senators said that all students — especially those in unique academic circumstances — should be given greater leniency during remote quarters.
Petitioning for retroactive dropping — meaning that students would be allowed to drop a course after the quarter is over — is only allowed three times in a student’s academic career. A.S. senators argued that the process to retroactively drop is too lengthy, and that the limit on retroactive drops should be removed both this quarter and for any other future remote quarters to accommodate for the difficulties in online learning.
However, Pabla and Moon both expressed concerns about adding the retroactive drop request to the resolution, saying that it would be minimizing the problem by “squish[ing] it into this resolution.”
Pabla later agreed that adding the clause about retroactive dropping was an important first step, but argued that senators would need to follow this resolution with more comprehensive legislation on retroactive dropping in Winter Quarter 2021.
Off-Campus Senator Manny Roman, along with other senators, advocated strongly for including the line about retroactive dropping in the resolution as opposed to waiting until next quarter, as was originally suggested by Pabla and Moon.
“These circumstances demand something to happen now,” Roman said. “If we can alleviate that stress and pressure now, I think that we should do it.”
A.S. senators also criticized the Academic Senate for waiting until Week 9 to extend the P/NP deadline. In the resolution, senators called on the Academic Senate to make a plan for future remote quarters ahead of time so decisions are not made at the last minute.
“There’s no reason that every single quarter, [the Academic Senate] is scrambling or extending a deadline that should have been extended before the quarter started,” College of Letters and Science Senator Shva Star said during the meeting.
“We’ve been in the pandemic now for almost this whole year, so there definitely should be a more concrete plan on how to handle things,” Star said.