U of M senate approves ‘compassionate grading’ plan

The U of M has seen nearly a year of remote learning and, though time has passed, the university’s student senate caucus found that students still face the same issues they did in the winter 2020 term. 

Students who went into the fall 2020 semester reported that despite believing that online learning would improve from last winter, they experienced more difficulties, including anxiety due to Respondus software and webcam monitoring and trouble finding a quiet study place. 

In an effort to ease some of students’ academic concerns during the pandemic, the student senate caucus’s proposal advocated for the implementation of the alternative grading options that were used at the end of the last winter semester but dropped for the summer 2020 and fall 2020 semesters. 

According to Todd Mondor, chair of the COVID-19 recovery steering committee, the system used last winter was implemented because of the “unexpected and abrupt transition” from in-person to remote learning. 

The reason that the grading approach reverted back to the original scheme was because “students were advised in advance how the course would proceed and so they knew what they were signing up for. There was no abrupt transition.” 

Mondor said the steering committee acknowledged the negative impacts that online learning has on students. 

“We felt that [accommodations would be] fair and compassionate.” 

The student senate caucus is made up of elected representatives from each faculty and is co-chaired by the University of Manitoba Graduate Students’ Association’s vice-president academic Rubel Talukder and UMSU’s vice-president advocacy Kristin Smith, who said that after hearing from students about concerns throughout the semester, the compassionate grading scheme is “truly, widely needed.” 

“I actually wish we’d started doing it a little bit sooner if I’m being honest,” Smith said. 

The caucus’ proposal asked that, rather than leaving no option but to take the letter grade they receive at the end of their course, students should have the opportunity to either choose to accept the letter grade but exclude in from their GPA or use a pass/fail option for their transcript. 

The proposal was passed on to and approved by senate with their own recommendations. 

UMSU president Jelynn Dela Cruz said that even though the grading scheme approved by senate was not the exact same as the version proposed by the student senate caucus, “ultimately this is an advocacy win for both of the students’ unions at the University of Manitoba.” 

“Already and prior to COVID-19, being a post-secondary student in Manitoba was a balancing act,” said Dela Cruz. 

“Now, in the middle of this code red, remote learning and an institutional labour dispute, the scales have certainly been tipped, and it’s about time that they tip in the favour of student success and wellbeing.” 

The version of the proposal that will be implemented does not include a pass/fail option but allows all students the opportunity to choose to exclude one grade in fall 2020 and one grade in winter 2021, or the grade from one course spanning both terms, from their cumulative GPA (CGPA). 

A grade excluded from a student’s CGPA will remain on their transcript with an asterisk beside it but a CGPA without that grade will be calculated. 

This recalculated CGPA will be used for progressions in undergraduate and graduate programs and will allow students to maintain any performance-based financial aids. 

Students have until the end of the winter 2021 semester to decide to drop a grade from either semester. 

An already existing option for students is to drop all courses in a term or to potentially appeal for a tuition refund for medical and compassionate reasons is by Authorized Withdrawal (AW). 

Smith said the proposal used the term “compassionate grading” to not only allow for more grading options but to “also encourage the university to undertake and encourage professors to exercise a culture of compassion in every scenario.” 

“There are some students that might need consideration on a case-by-case basis, and that obviously can’t be mandated from the top down, but calling the proposal compassionate grading helps get that message across.” 

In addition to the compassionate grading proposal, UMSU, along with UMGSA, is currently working on advocating for five other items to improve student experience that, if approved by senate, will be implemented for the upcoming semester. 

The unions are aiming to address concerns regarding the environmental scan from Respondus during exams and are advocating for a more fair student appeal process and workload along with more flexibility with deadlines in the case of technical troubles.  

“While remote learning will never replace pre-COVID learning, our goal is to bring the quality of learning that the university offers us, students, as close to that standard as possible,” said Dela Cruz.