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Any classes this semester can be taken pass/fail, Faculty Senate decides


By Christina Tan     3/25/20 1:28pm

Undergraduate students will be able to designate all courses this semester pass/fail after the Faculty Senate approved the motion for academic relief in Spring 2020 to address the academic disruption caused by COVID-19, by a unanimous vote (28 in favor, 4 absent). 

The senate also passed two other motions unanimously: the first will move the deadline to input grades for graduating students to May 15 at 5 p.m. The second states that students will not be “unduly penalized academically” if any courses in progress cannot be offered for completion due to the university’s response to the pandemic.

The deadline to designate any class pass/fail has been extended to the last day of class for all undergraduate students. For all students, including graduate students, the deadline to drop a class has also been extended to the last day of class. 

Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman said in the meeting that the extended deadline will maximize flexibility as the COVID-19 situation evolves.

“My office has been in touch with several hundreds of students who are experiencing tumultuous and extreme circumstances,” Gorman said. “Undoubtedly the situation is going to continue to evolve, and I feel very strongly that we want to give them maximum flexibility to make decisions on a later timeframe than they normally would. I don’t think our students would abuse that.”

If students choose to designate courses pass/fail, they may still uncover the letter grades by the normal deadline, which is the second week of the following semester. Pass/fail designations during this semester will not count against the normal allocation for undergraduate students, and all courses with a “P” will still be eligible to go towards major, minor or certificate course requirements. The measure includes classes that are typically not allowed to be designated pass-fail, such as First Year Writing Intensive Seminars, according to David Tenney. However, guidelines about other typical standards, like the process needed to go part-time, still must be adhered to, according to Tenney.

The March 25 Faculty Senate took place on Zoom, with senators using the "raise hand" function to vote for amendments and roll call to vote to pass motions.

A petition asking the administration to pass such a motion was circulated by Kendall Vining, the Student Association internal vice president, and garnered 3,434 signatures by time of publication. 

“This petition brought together thousands of people who are physically distant, connecting them in a way that lightened our virtual campus, causing us to stay engaged as a Rice community,” Vining, a Martel College sophomore, said. “That’s really freaking cool, and it just tells me that this kind of active, passionate advocacy needs to continue.”

Regarding graduation accommodations, the Faculty Senate resolved unanimously that all deans should prepare requests for graduation requirement exemptions for students who are graduating in Spring 2020 and are unable to complete course credits this semester as a result of the pandemic. While most classes at Rice are expected to run to completion, this accommodation would assist students studying abroad whose programs were cut short with no online accommodation, according to Gorman. 

The requests for graduation exemptions will be presented for approval at the May 14 plenary Faculty Senate meeting. The motion resolves that as long as the exemptions are consistent with the accreditation requirements, the exemptions will be granted. 

“I want to get something out like this now to signal to the students that [COVID-19] has caused tremendous difficulty and we intend to do everything we can, within reason, to make sure they can graduate when they intended to,” Christopher Johns-Krull, speaker of the Faculty Senate, said.

For students who will not be graduating this spring but who are affected by course cancellations, the Faculty Senate resolves that “an undue burden should not be placed on these students to fulfill all graduation requirements impacted in Spring 2020.” All deans have been granted the ability to prepare graduation requirement exemption requests consistent with accreditation requirements for continuing students, which will be presented at the appropriate faculty senate plenary meeting.

Vining said that she feels the Faculty Senate’s decision shows the power of students on campus.

“I feel like the relationship between students and their peers in governing positions has been a strained one,” Vining said. “I feel as though this decision will remind both Senate members and the rest of the SA that when we work together and unite on issues, we can make change happen.”

These three agenda items were added in an emergency meeting on Tuesday, March 17 in response to the university’s decision to convert to remote instruction and to require almost all students to move off campus in response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

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