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Colby faculty renew satisfactory/unsatisfactory policy, extend deadline

The Colby faculty once again voted to renew the satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) grading policy that the College used during the spring and fall of 2020. The deadline to declare S/U will be the last day of classes, May 12.

A grade of C- or higher constitutes a satisfactory, and anything below a C- is unsatisfactory. Satisfactories count towards all-College distribution requirements and each department may decide if they will coun S/U courses for their majors or minors.

Students may only count 16 S/U credits towards the 128-credit requirement, and courses taken S/U are not factored into
students’ GPAs.

According to Provost and Dean of Faculty Margaret McFadden, 20% of students took at least one course S/U this fall, 16% of which took one course S/U, 3% of which took two courses S/U, and 1% of which took three
courses S/U.

The Colby Student Government Association (SGA) passed a resolution Feb. 28 advocating for the policy’s renewal. The resolution took the form of a letter recommending an extension of the policy on behalf of the student body, as it did last semester, but the letter was not binding for the faculty.

SGA recommended two adjustments to the policy: first, any S/U declaration should require meeting with an academic advisor and, second, the deadline for S/U declarations should be the last day of classes, May 12. The deadline is usually Feb. 19.

The latter recommendation was adopted but the former was not.

Sam Rosenstein `21, SGA Vice President, sits on the College’s Academic Affairs Committee, which makes recommendations on the S/U policy to the faculty.

Rosenstein wrote to The Colby Echo that in his work with the Academic Affairs Committee, he learned that faculty were concerned that students “did not have the best information to make the appropriate S/U declaration for their classes,” which is where the idea for consultations came from.

Rosenstein noted that many students did not understand that the threshold for receiving credit for a course is actually lower if taken for a grade than S/U; students cannot receive credit for a “U,” which is a C- or below, but can receive credit for a D or higher with a traditionally-graded course.

McFadden also shared that faculty were concerned about this issue.

Before the pandemic, students needed a paper signature from an advisor to declare a course S/U. The requirement was waived for the 2020 academic year because of the increased amount of S/U declarations.

SGA’s message in their recommendation letter was that the COVID-19 pandemic has not ended and neither have the challenges students face. Rosenstein shared that student needs and challenges have not drastically changed from the past two semesters, so the policy should be extended. He said that these challenges include the ramifications of COVID-19 itself and the remote or hybrid learning model of many courses.

One challenge last semester, from SGA’s perspective, was that each academic department decided individually if it would allow students to S/U count courses towards their major or minor. They wrote in their letter that “the lack of an applicable extended S/U option towards a major/minor departmental requirements remains a chief barrier to resolving the academic inequity brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

McFadden said it is “a long-standing faculty policy that those are departmental decisions.” Last spring, she said, every department and program elected to approve S/U courses towards their majors and minors, but it was still an individual decision and many returned to their previous policy this fall.

SGA surveyed the student body on their experience with last semester’s S/U policy. They reported one negative review out of over 40 responses. Looking through the responses, SGA found that many students complained about the unequal opportunity across departments to count S/U courses towards majors and minors.

Students cited the added stresses of living in a pandemic and learning remotely or in a hybrid model. They also noted that students may feel the ever-present anxiety of a potential outbreak on campus or of being quarantined.

One student shared that, during JanPlan, they were quarantined and missed half of the month of in-person classes. But, they did not know how long they would be in quarantine until after the S/U declaration deadline had passed, so they wish they could have declared S/U later “to relieve some of the stress from catching up with missed work.”

Many students mentioned reasons why extending the deadline would be helpful. One student wrote that they “would love to have an extended S/U deadline to have time to figure things out with online classes.”

Another wrote that “with things going on at home for some students they may start having trouble in classes later than in the beginning.”

Each academic department will now decide if it will accept S/U courses towards its major or minor and students will have until the end of this semester to decide whether they will take up the opportunity to declare their courses S/U.

~ Sonia Lachter ‘22

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