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Time to go further: Faculty should consider mandating optional finals and other steps

By Thresher Editorial Board     4/14/20 6:42pm

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.

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