To All Students:
We are all adjusting to the new virtual work environment. Virtual learning and virtual working present both opportunities and challenges for students, staff, and professors. The Career and Professional Development Centre has prepared a resource guide called “Best Practices for Virtual Learning” that will be sent to all of you later today and will be posted on our homepage.
Decision on Grades: Providing All Students with a Satisfactory/Non-Satisfactory Option
As I have been sharing with you over the past several days, we have been hard at work coming to a decision regarding grades. Yesterday, the University Senate passed a resolution to approve exceptional temporary academic measures in response to the COVID-19 situation, to enable changes to the class/course schedule, the course syllabus, academic deadlines, the method of teaching and evaluation, other academic activities or exceptions to the University’s Academic Regulations or to faculty-specific academic regulations. This empowered us to enact solutions that will work for our Faculty.
The Executive Committee of the Faculty has approved a plan that will give all students the ability to elect for a Satisfactory/Non-Satisfactory option for their courses (or the option to proceed with their ordinary letter grade). Upper year students will have until the last day of classes to opt-out of the regular grading scheme and have all their courses graded on a Satisfactory/Non-Satisfactory basis. Because of the unique nature of the 1L program, 1Ls will be offered slightly more flexibility and will not be required to elect for a blanket choice of Satisfactory/Non-Satisfactory.
The Executive Committee also authorized professors to make changes to the method of evaluations in courses, where indicated.
Soon after you receive this message, you will receive details of the motion approved by the Executive Committee, the rationale behind each of the elements as well as detailed explanation.
Let me tell you how we got here.
Responding to you, we recognized the need to act quickly to provide some certainty during this period of instability. An Ad Hoc Committee on Evaluations was established to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ evaluation. The committee examined a range of options, considered the opinions of students as expressed in the petition to me and the many emails that I received which I forwarded to them. The Committee considered and had to balance a number of factors: (1) the need to reduce student uncertainty and anxiety surrounding evaluation, exams and grades; (2) maintaining the academic integrity of our programs; (3) access and equity concerns; (4) fairness in application of any proposal; (5) the different situation of 1Ls and upper year students; (6) workload for staff and faculty who are working from home during a period when many have school age and very young children at home; (7) the desirability of student choice; and (8) the long-term interests of students and of the school. This list is not exhaustive and I’m sure the committee considered other interests as well.
The proposal was presented to the Examinations Committee where it was approved unanimously. It was then presented by the Examinations Committee to the Executive Committee and approved unanimously. There are student representatives on both these committees.
Some of you will be content with the changes and some of you will not. Some will think we did not go far enough. You should be aware that there was a strong push at the University Senate to convert all courses in all faculties immediately to pass-fail with no provision for student choice and no provision for Faculty needs. This has been done at several American universities. This proposal was rejected at Senate, enabling each Faculty to find its own suitable solutions.
We felt it was important to provide students with choice. But living and working as professionals in a community we also need to balance autonomy with other considerations including access and equity considerations and workload for faculty and staff, many of whom are balancing personal and professional responsibilities at home indefinitely. When we next turn to consider exams, a significant consideration will be students who have children at home. It is equally legitimate to consider the impact of policy changes on staff and faculty.
At the end of the day, we are focused on two critical issues: (1) ensuring the health and safety of everyone in our community – students, staff and faculty; and (2) doing everything possible to ensure that students complete the term, complete their coursework, get their grades, and that 3Ls graduate on time.
We believe that the proposal we adopted is consistent with these two overarching goals.
In the coming hours and days, you will have many questions. We don’t have all of the answers yet. Everything is a work in progress. You will receive FAQs along with an explanation of the changes. We will add to the FAQs as we receive your questions. We have set up a special account to monitor and respond to your questions: VDCMLEvaluations@gmail.com.
Up Next: Exams
The Ad-hoc Committee on Evaluations is continuing its work and will now focus on exams. We will update you next week.
Have a good weekend. Remember that social distancing, the most effective strategy for managing this public health crisis, does not mean emotional isolation. Stay in touch with your peers, professors, and families. Care for one another. I’ll be back in touch on Monday.