Senate Report: January 11, 2021

The meeting primarily focused on pass/fail grading as well as the revised curriculum for the English department

Photo from Peak archives

Written by: Kyla Dowling, Staff Writer 

Pass/credit/no credit grading implemented for elective courses 

The SFU Senate agreed to allow the option of pass/credit/no credit (P/CR/NC) grading for courses outside of a student’s major. This system is a pilot program to be put in place for the Spring, Summer, and Fall 2021 terms in order to accommodate the challenges students are facing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The motion was previously endorsed by the Senate Committee on Undergraduate Studies (SCUS) with the help of senator Wade Parkhouse and student senator Gabe Liosis. 

Concerns were voiced about students with GPA requirements for scholarships, students with prior academic integrity offenses, and how faculty might be held accountable given the lack of biannual reviews due to the pandemic. 

Senator Lyn Bartram brought up the issue of how the program affects students’ GPA in terms of “scholarships externally granted, co-op [ . . . ] and grad school admissions” as P/CR/NC does not count towards a student’s GPA. 

The matter of academic integrity was brought up by senator Eric Gedajlovic, who voiced concerns regarding students who may have failed a component of a course due to academic integrity and questioned whether these students should be permitted the option of P/CR/NC grading. These concerns were not resolved during the meeting, however, Vice-President, Academic and Provost Catherine Dauvergne noted that these issues had been considered during preliminary meetings. 

The benefits of P/CR/NC grading for electives were also discussed, with senator Daniel Leznoff noting that the program would be “an exceptionally healthy thing in normal times” as it allows students to take courses outside of their major without fear of dropping their GPA. The pilot program will be reassessed in a year and may continue beyond the pandemic.

The system set to be implemented for the 2021 year is referred to as P/CR/NC rather than pass/fail. Students with a grade of C- or higher may choose to have a “pass” grade, whereas students with a D will get a “credit” grade, and failing students will receive no credit. Pass/credit/no credit grades will not count toward GPA calculations. 

The motion passed with 91% of Senate members voted in favour of implementing P/CR/NC grading, with 5% opposed and 4% abstaining. 

 

Pass/credit/no credit grading rejected for core classes

The Senate moved on to consider an amendment to the motion that would allow all courses — both core and elective classes — to use the P/CR/NC system. 

Senator Matt Martell proposed that departments should be able to decide individually, stating that “core courses are not all created equally.” This compromise was backed by Parkhouse and senator Daniel Laitsch. 

Liosis had earlier spoken to the compromises that had to be made in order to bring the initial motion to the senate. Initially, the idea was to implement the same pass/fail grading that was put in place as an emergency response to the pandemic while “[tackling] some of the initial concerns that the original pass/fail system proposed.” However, after discussion with SCUS, Parkhouse, and Academic Vice-President Catherine Dauvergne, many of the components of the original system — including allowing all courses to have pass/fail as an option — were forfeited. 

The amendment requesting that the P/CR/NC system would be applied to all classes was voted via secret ballot, as requested by senator Stephen Spector. The motion was not passed, with 70% opposed, 29% in favour, and 2% abstaining. 

 

Convocation and summer semester dates moved 

Two motions were passed, shifting the dates of both the 2021 convocation ceremony and the start of the Summer 2021 semester.

The first day of classes for the Summer 2021 term was moved from Monday May 17, 2021 to Wednesday May 12, 2021. The date was initially shifted when it was decided that the Spring semester would start a week later. Spector stated that “moving the start date back to May 12 allows us to have the appropriate number of days in the semester without creating too small of a gap [between semesters].” 

The convocation ceremony was moved from June 811 to June 24–29. This change occurred because the Spring term ends later than it normally would. 

 

Changes made to English undergraduate curriculum 

During the meeting, the Undergraduate/Associate Chair of the English department David Coley discussed how the department has undergone external review over the past year and has been reassessing undergraduate course offerings. Additionally, course requirements, particularly for upper division courses, have been reviewed in order to make the courses more accessible for students outside of the major.

The reason for the reassessment, according to Coley, is because the “English [department] has undergone a great deal of change, methodologically, and culturally within the past 15 or 20 years since our curriculum was last revised.” The plan for the new curriculum is for it to be more culturally relevant, with courses in race and diaspora, gender and sexuality, and environmental literature. 

With 12 new courses added and 30 removed in the upper division, there were some concerns from senator Colin Percival. He noted that FASS students have previously struggled with getting certain courses in certain terms, extending their time at SFU or making their schedules more difficult to manage.

In response, Coley explained that this issue was one that the new revision is attempting to address. Due to the small number of faculty members, courses could not be offered in regular rotation. The new courses are more broadly conceived in order to attract students towards them so they can be offered more regularly and in multiple iterations.