Submitted on October 28, 2020
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On October 26, 2020, the faculty Committee on Academic Policy and Planning (CAPP) rejected proposed changes to the grading policy for Fall 2020 submitted by the Student Committee on Academic Policy and Planning (SCAPP), maintaining the standard grading policy. We write to you to share the details of this decision and the decision-making process.
As members of SCAPP, our role is to represent student interests by writing formal memos to CAPP expressing student opinion on academic policy decisions and by participating in a limited role in CAPP meetings. CAPP makes decisions about academic policy, ranging from approving new classes or faculty sabbaticals to making changes to graduation requirements, which the faculty at large then approve. Because of this structure, CAPP is always under more scrutiny from the faculty than from the students, and we hope that the transparency of this letter will begin to remedy this disparity and bring to light the ways that CAPP has addressed student representation and well-being this semester. Although SCAPP was unable to convince CAPP to alter the grading policy this semester despite our commitment to greater academic flexibility, we feel we must communicate to the student body how this decision was made.
SCAPP’s proposed changes to the grading policy included modifications to the Credit/No Credit (Cr/NCr) policy, specific support for international students, and recommending that faculty accept late work without penalizing students. In the current Cr/NCr policy, only juniors and seniors may take classes for Cr/NCr (up to a maximum of two classes over the course of their Reed career, excluding classes taken for Cr/NCr during Spring 2020), the minimum grade to receive credit is a C, and classes taken for Cr/NCr cannot count for minor, major, division, or distributional requirements. In the memo we submitted to CAPP (the full text of which is available here), SCAPP proposed that all students, regardless of their class standing, should be able to take up to two units as Cr/NCr, with all grades at or above a C-minus qualifying for credit. In addition, we proposed that Cr/NCr classes should be counted for distributional and divisional requirements and that the deadline to switch classes to Cr/NCr should be extended from November 2 to December 7, the last day of classes. CAPP relegated the discussion of this memo to the final twenty minutes of Monday’s meeting, during which CAPP rejected the proposed changes to Cr/NCr and failed to adequately discuss the other suggestions we made. Although the committee promised to come back to the other grading policies, we worry how long it will take to revisit these concerns and whether it will be too late to take action to benefit students by the time they do.
We believe the standard grading policy which is currently in place is irresponsible, harmful, and inequitable given the ongoing circumstances of the pandemic. CAPP agreed to reinstate the standard grading policy for Fall 2020 at a meeting which took place in June, a meeting at which no student representatives were present. In May, at the end of the spring semester, we wrote to the dean of the faculty’s office to request that SCAPP members be notified of any CAPP meetings over the summer. The dean of the faculty’s office responded on May 4, saying they were unaware of any CAPP meetings planned for the summer and promising to notify us if any were scheduled. We were never notified of the June meeting, or any other summer meetings of which we may be unaware. This decision was made without students present, and we worry that this exclusion did not allow us to fulfill our mandate of representing the interests and perspectives of students on and to CAPP.
On Monday, CAPP upheld that decision, citing their June meeting as their reasoning for why the grading policy should remain the same, despite the dramatic changes in both our expectations and our circumstances in the last several months. Members of CAPP themselves seemed uncertain about whether the decision made in this June meeting was a placeholder or a permanent decision. There was some interest expressed at the idea of pushing the Cr/NCr deadline to the last day of classes and changing the specifics of the policy after consultation with the faculty. However, based on input from the Registrar that it would be difficult to make these changes at this point in the semester and that many students have already made their decisions about Cr/NCr, members of CAPP concluded that it was too late to pass the proposed changes.
It was at approximately this point in the semester in Spring 2020 that the dean of the faculty and CAPP made changes to the grading policy that were far more drastic than the alterations proposed by us this fall. We recognize that the decisions made in the spring were made in response to an international crisis, and this semester is relatively stable in comparison, but we do not believe that it is too late in the semester to implement a change in policy which increases flexibility for all students. Additionally, we submitted our proposed changes on October 15, prior to the October 19 CAPP meeting at which the grading policy was not discussed.
CAPP made Monday’s decision to keep the existing policy in an unorthodox manner, as the proposed changes were never brought to a vote. Normally, the decisions CAPP makes, ranging from approving new classes or sabbaticals to policy changes, must be approved or rejected by a vote of the seven voting members. CAPP’s decision not to vote on the proposed changes to the grading policy makes it seem as if they never made a decision one way or another, meaning there is no institutional record of decision to maintain the standard grading policy despite student opposition.
The grading policy decision comes shortly after CAPP’s decision to adopt the proposed academic calendar for Spring 2021. This proposed calendar has a similar structure to this semester’s calendar, with eleven weeks of classes, a one-week break in April during which the campus would close to students, followed by two weeks of online classes. This decision also ignored SCAPP’s input, as we specifically objected to this option both in official CAPP meetings and in another memo we submitted on October 6. Although this option may minimize risk and liability to the institution, we believe it is detrimental to the mental health and well-being of both faculty and students. This semester, we are witnessing high levels of burnout and both students and faculty are struggling to maintain their mental health due to the lack of a meaningful break mid-semester.
We believe that both of these decisions are harmful to students at a time when we are especially vulnerable. Dean of the Faculty Kathy Oleson, commenting on the credit/no credit decision, told us: “CAPP decided to uphold a decision made over the summer not to make changes to the credit/no-credit policy, but encouraged faculty to consider the challenges of this semester when handling deadlines, extensions, and absences.” The dean added that she is planning to send out messaging to faculty to encourage them to consider students’ challenges. While we appreciate the dean’s efforts, we believe that it is not enough to count on individual professors to be understanding in their grading practices, as the variation among professors inevitably leads to inequity.
As members of SCAPP, we are frustrated with the decisions CAPP has made this semester, and we believe that these incidents are part of a larger problem related to student representation at the institutional level. We understand that CAPP is accountable to the faculty before it is accountable to the student body, but we worry that this leads to deprioritizing student input and student concerns. While we recognize that CAPP has to make timely, bureaucratic decisions necessary to the college’s academic program, we are frustrated that many of our formal memos to CAPP are delayed or put off for multiple semesters, including our long-term goals concerning accessibility, feedback, and advising, and that elected student representatives for CAPP were not chosen for the COVID-19 academic working group. We write this letter in the hopes of increasing transparency for the student body, and we invite increased input from students to both SCAPP and CAPP. We encourage you to email your concerns to the dean of the faculty’s office and the other members of CAPP as well as bringing them up with your individual professors.
The Student Committee on Academic Policy and Planning