Senate Report: June 7, 2021

The Senate discusses returning to campus, Indigenous community trauma, and updates to grading scheme

Photo from Peak archives

Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

Content warning: mention of residential schools

Fall Return to campus

Student senator Serena Bains brought forth a question regarding the return to in-person classes for Fall 2021. They asked about accommodations for “international, disabled, BIPOC, and other marginalized communities.”

Vice president academic and provost Catherine Dauvergne said, “As planning progresses for the fall term, we’re really keen to ensure that students who cannot return to campus can be accommodated.”  

Dauvergne noted SFU has been working to increase the team in the Centre for Accessible Learning that handles student accommodation requests, as they expect an increase this fall. At a Council meeting on June 16, however, Bains said they were informed that accessibility will depend on individual professors. 

She added SFU is setting up a registration system for student course enrolment that prioritizes students who are “unable to return to campus.” They will have priority access to the 20% of courses that will be offered remotely. It was not specified which circumstances would qualify students to be considered “unable to return” for priority access. 

Return to campus measures include “encouraging students to stay away from campus  when they’re feeling unwell.” Davergne said SFU encourages professors to continue recording and uploading lectures, as well as not penalizing students for missing class.

Acknowledgement of residential schools 

President Joy Johnson announced on June 7, 2021 that SFU had lowered their flags to “honour the lives and memories of the children found at the burial site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.”

She noted SFU’s flags would remain lowered for nine days, starting on May 31, 2021. 

“SFU is standing in solidarity with Indigenous peoples as we grieve this enormous, unfathomable loss of life,” said Johnson. 

Johnson noted she recently met with the Aboriginal Steering Committee and “heard first-hand from members of that steering committee about the impact of this news.

“I think it’s really important for all of us to acknowledge the collective responsibility that we all have to develop a better system and move towards reconciliation.” 

Discussion on grading scheme 

Student senator Sarah Lord Ferguson asked Senate what SFU is doing “to increase grading transparency and better align our grading practices with other Canadian institutions.” This was in reference to a petition that has over 1,000 signatures from undergraduate students. 

“The issue I’m bringing forward has hurt students — including myself — for many, many years,” said Lord Ferguson.

The petition states that Canadian institutions such as UBC, KPU, and Capilano University all have the same grading scheme — students need between 90–100% to receive an A+ or 85–89% to receive an A. SFU’s grading scheme requires students to achieve between 95–100% for A+ and 90–94% for A. Other letter grades also require higher percentages. 

This makes it more difficult for SFU undergraduate students to achieve high letter grades, despite receiving the same percentage. Therefore, it is more challenging to be accepted into graduate programs for an SFU student, compared to a UBC student with the same percentage, according to Lord Ferguson.

“I’m optimistic that with this external pressure and bringing this concern directly to the floor of the Senate, we can expedite the process towards a solution,” said Lord Ferguson. 

Vice provost and associate vice president academic Wade Parkhouse responded, “We are aware of the petition circulating requesting a change to our undergraduate grading practices and transcripts. Proponents of the petition have been instructed to work with the registrar.

“A further analysis will be done to determine the impact of potential changes on current and former students, impact on the students’ records from a systems perspective, and wide consultations with students and faculty.” 

This consultation will take time, according to Parkhouse, but after the necessary information has been gathered, Senate will have a discussion regarding the current grading scheme. 

“I do wish to highlight institutional grading practices and students’ academic records are very important, and adjustments or changes to these are not made lightly due to the importance,” said Parkhouse.

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