Time to go further: Faculty should consider mandating optional finals and other steps
This Thursday, the Faculty Senate will meet to finalize their April 22 agenda. As an editorial board, we endorse the measures they plan to vote on. As students, we are suggesting they take a step further to consider more accommodations such as making finals optional for all students. We also ask that professors take proactive steps now to adjust their classes, regardless of what the Faculty Senate eventually decides.
We endorse all of the measures already in consideration, and urge the Faculty Senate to vote in favor of them on April 22. The extension of the drop deadline for courses until after grades are made available will essentially allow students to have a pass/no credit option. An extension of the pass/fail deadline will allow students to pass/fail a class if their letter grade turns out lower than expected. Removal of academic punishment, like probation and suspension, relieves significant burden especially for graduate students, who have yet to receive sweeping accommodations. We believe that all of these measures should be discussed and approved given the changing circumstances caused by COVID-19.
However, additional measures should be considered — not just by the Faculty Senate, but by administrators and professors themselves. First, a mandate for optional final exams and assessments, similar to measures that Northwestern University has already implemented. This allows students to be evaluated on the first two-thirds of the semester, before their lives were significantly upturned by the pandemic. Second, a way for students to anonymously report professors who have made their classes unreasonably harder as a way to “compensate” for lack of in-person teaching. Currently, students have not been provided a clear path to report additional stressors and must self-advocate to department heads or Interim Provost Seiichi Matsuda’s office, a nebulous path with unclear results that many students do not have the time or energy for, as they grapple with disease and other issues at home.
With or without administrative action, professors should consider enacting flexibility within their classrooms themselves. Importantly, professors should — if they haven’t already — make their options for accommodations explicit. Acknowledging that the pandemic is stressful and telling students to “email with any concerns” is not enough. Instead, professors should tell students what they can ask for: extended deadlines, accepted late work, an adjusted grading scale — to name a few possibilities. Even better, professors should consider uniformly making their class more flexible by extending deadlines for everyone and making some assignments optional, in order to relieve the burden of self-advocacy for students already under duress. And regardless of the Faculty Senate’s decisions or considerations, professors could consider making their own final exams or projects optional, easier or worth a smaller proportion of final grades.
We are indeed in an unprecedented time. It’s time Rice makes unprecedented accommodations to reflect that.
Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Christina Tan, Anna Ta, Rishab Ramapriyan, Ivanka Perez, Amy Qin, Katelyn Landry, Ella Feldman, Elizabeth Hergert, Simona Matovic and Tina Liu.
More from The Rice Thresher
On May 25, Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. Chauvin, a Minnesota police officer, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on the ground. Floyd did not merely “die in police custody” as the Washington Post and other publications continue to insist on phrasing it. As Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, a police officer killed him. Active voice.
In the midst of a global pandemic, Betsy DeVos, the United States Secretary of Education, announced new Title IX regulations that govern how schools handle allegations of sexual assault and harrassment. Under the guise of restoring due process, the changes harm and undermine survivors by enhancing protections for those accused of misconduct.
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have given rise to a new phrase that has been thrown around by media outlets and social media users across the country: “We are all in this together.” Don’t get me wrong — I am not denying the fact that every person in this country has been impacted by the virus in some capacity, and I am certainly not denying the rise in local expressions of solidarity. Over the past couple months, we’ve seen students and volunteers across the country donate their time and resources to help their neighbors. Young people have come together on social media platforms to address issues surrounding mental health and online learning, creating a sense of community while also practicing social distancing. I am not denying the presence of solidarity. What I would like to discuss, however, is the fallacy of solidarity in a racialized society.