Op-Ed: A statement about pass/fail in the context of concerns about university senate

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by Katherine Spinnato, On Behalf of the Academic Affairs Advocacy for the Undergraduate Student Government  

The Undergraduate Student Government pushed for lenient Pass/Fail requirements, however, in the last round, the committee chose to not pass the policy. Photo by Avery Bikerman/The Daily Campus

To anyone and everyone reading this,  

I come to you today first and foremost as a concerned student, and second as the Academic Affairs Advocacy Director for the Undergraduate Student Government. From the end of September to the present, my committee has pushed for more lenient Pass/Fail requirements for students. That journey involved two different phases.  

We began the journey by creating a piece of legislation, which called for the policy change, that passed through the USG Senate and then went to the University Senate. This piece of legislation sought to amend the proposal that scholastic standards presented, which is the one that applies currently. When our proposed legislation and amendment reached the University Senate, it saw some substantial opposition. The University Senate is the entity at the university that is responsible for the majority of the big academic policy changes we see within the university. For example, they decide the format of the academic calendar each year and, yes, decided to extend the pass/fail date and relax the requirements for Spring 2020.  

We did not let that loss in the University Senate stop us, and we were determined to gather substantial student data in the hopes that it would change the minds of those who were opposed the first time around. Our survey, which ran from Oct. 9 to Oct. 22, received approximately 1,000 responses that mostly said the same thing: we are really struggling over here and we need Pass/Fail again. We organized the data into a presentation, highlighted student testimonials that came up over and over again and we were ready to fight.*  

When our P/F proposal reached the University Senate the second time around, all five of our student representatives, nominated by the Student Body President, spoke again in strong favor of Pass/Fail. I am concerned because even though all of our student representatives spoke up, their perspective and support for Pass/Fail went in one ear and out the other. I want to be clear when I say that often, the student representatives in the University Senate push for initiatives and policy changes that students want to see, but because the “University” Senate has seventy-two faculty members and only five undergraduates, the change students want to see is often left unheard. I am also concerned because I discovered through this process that our student body president does not have speaking rights in the University Senate, only University Senators have speaking rights.  

This leads me to two important questions that I would like you all to consider:  

1. Why are there only five student representatives to represent over 23,000 students (they represent all undergraduates, regardless of campus)?   

2. Why are there only five student representatives to represent over 23,000 students (they represent all undergraduates, regardless of campus)?    

I want to acknowledge the faculty members in the University Senate who were sympathetic to student concerns the second time around. I appreciate you. Pass/Fail almost passed the second time around. It needed 2/3 or 66% of the vote to pass. It received approximately 56% with 37 yes, 27 no, and 2 abstentions. The concern remains though: as long as we continue to be extremely overpowered by faculty in the University Senate, student concerns will remain unheard to some extent.  

I am not here to say that the University Senate never listens to student voices. I believe the academic calendar, which USG helped develop for next semester, is pretty solid. However, there are some faculty in the Senate who are not sensitive to student concerns, nor do they seem to actively seek student input or give student perspectives the consideration they deserve.  

I am solely writing this to start a dialogue. Let this sink in and let it upset you. USG will be sending more policy changes to the University Senate in the next couple of months, policy changes I believe our community will largely benefit from. I want our student representatives to be able to make substantial changes. To make that change happen though, we need more student representation in the University Senate.  

Do not just take my word for it. I implore you all to watch the Pass/Fail Part of this video (start at 1:56:11) if you are interested as to why it did not pass. 

*NOTE: If you would like to see the raw data from the survey and everything we sent to the University Senate, USG will be releasing it on our social media soon so keep an eye out for that. 

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