The Rice University Faculty Senate passed three motions proposed by the Working Group on Grade Inflation last month on March 26. 

The first motion states that academic programs offering courses ranging from 100 to 300 levels must have faculty-wide discussion about grading standards at least once every five years.

The Rice University Faculty Senate passed three motions proposed by the Working Group on Grade Inflation last month on March 26. 

The first motion states that academic programs offering courses ranging from 100 to 300 levels must have faculty-wide discussion about grading standards at least once every five years. The second motion, effective in fall 2018, states that an A+ grade will be worth a 4.0 instead of its current 4.33 value in calculating GPA. The third motion states that evidence of teaching quality should be used in addition to student ratings of instructors regarding promotions and tenures. The motion cites peer or chair observations, as well as “teaching artifacts” such as exams and syllabi, as examples of evidence to use in evaluating teaching quality.

An email sent from Class of 2013 SA President Sanjula Jain to Working Group co-chair Jane Grande-Allen indicates that Duncan College Senator Chynna Foucek was chosen to lead the discussion on exploring the student perspective on the issues. Grande-Allen said Foucek, as the student representative, attended Working Group meetings and served as a mediator between the student body and the Working Group.

“[Foucek] was fully involved in the conversations about the data analysis and development of the motions,” Grande-Allen said. “We always asked for her input. She worked especially closely with me on the presentations to the SA and colleges.”

However, University Court Chair Brian Baran said he believes Foucek’s representation on the Working Group does not qualify as sufficient student representation. 

“Having a representative on a committee is not enough,” Baran, a Duncan junior, said. “The student body at large should have the opportunity to weigh in on issues through the Student Senate.”

Grande-Allen also cited presentations given to various residential colleges throughout the year and a presentation given to the SA in November as further examples of student involvement in the process. 

“I presented slides and answered lots of questions,” Grande-Allen said. “They were really helpful meetings that shaped our analysis and framing of the motions.”

However, Baran said he believes the presentations did not sufficiently represent the voice of the student body and a more formal method should have been pursued. 

“Giving presentations and collecting questions and comments informally doesn’t ensure student voices are heard,” Baran said. “Students should have the opportunity to have campus-wide discussions and debates on campus-wide issues and to pass, through the Student Association, legislation formalizing the opinion of the student body as a whole. Presentations are better suited for providing information than for discussing and building a consensus.”

Baran said he believes proper debate was lacking in the discussion that occurred back in the fall.

“By failing to provide an opportunity for real debate, as distinct from a presentation in which the chair of the Working Group on Grade Inflation provided misleading data, including graphs without labels, the SA Executive Committee has cut students out of their own student government,” Baran said.

However, Grande-Allen said the Working Group ensured that student opinion, heard throughout the presentations with residential colleges, was well accounted for in the final decision. 

“We took extensive notes from our meetings with the colleges and SA,” Grande-Allen said. “After visiting three or four colleges, we began to hear the same group of questions and concerns from students. These concerns were specifically addressed in the notes that accompany the motions in the final report.”

Faculty Senate Speaker Carl Caldwell said he believes the process of passing the motions on grade inflation is a good example of decision-making that involved students. 

“[The Faculty] Senate wanted extensive student participation in these discussions, and the Working Group did an excellent job in getting it,” Caldwell said. “I’ve rarely seen a more dedicated set of senators more concerned to get the opinion of all affected parties across campus. In my estimation, this is an example of how to discuss difficult problems [the right way].”

Baran acknowledges the Faculty Senate’s efforts in taking student opinion into consideration, but wishes students had input through a more formal process. 

“I appreciate the work done to gather questions and comments,” Baran said. “However, on an issue this big, such feedback needs to be supplemented by a vote of the Student Senate on legislation clearly conveying students’ position and reasoning.”

SA President Ravi Sheth said the Working Group has been active in taking the student voice into account during discussions surrounding grade inflation. 

“The Working Group on Grade Inflation has been working closely with students through a deliberate process for many months,” Sheth, a Martel College senior, said. “With the passing of these motions, an important part of the shared governance of the university will be to continue to share information and gauge student opinion to this information and react appropriately.”