UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- After a special meeting on Oct. 29, the Penn State Faculty Senate voted to endorse a resolution drafted by student senators requesting the reinstatement of an optional alternative grading system for undergraduate students for the fall 2020 semester. The Senate then also voted to reinstate Senate Policy 49-70, which established the alternative grading system implemented during the spring 2020 semester.
Jeff Adams, associate vice president and associate dean for undergraduate education, said the re-enacted policy will be implemented by the University’s Administrative Council for Undergraduate Education (ACUE), and that the policy will function similarly to when it was first enacted last spring. Additional details, including the deadline for selecting alternative grades, should be available by Nov. 15.
Under the policy, alternative grading will be available to undergraduate students across the University, including World Campus students and those students who have returned from study abroad programs and are completing their studies via remote learning technology. Students in an integrated graduate-undergraduate (IUG) program cannot request alternative grades for courses applied to their graduate program. The Graduate School is currently exploring options for graduate students and will share more information in the near future. Alternative grading will not be available for students of Penn State Law, Dickinson Law, or the MD program and physician assistant program within the College of Medicine.
The policy allows for undergraduate students to request an alternative grade of SAT, V or Z in one or more courses. Adams said students will be able to select alternative grades if they so choose after grades are finalized for the semester, and he stressed that all students should speak to their academic adviser before selecting any alternative grades.
A student who has received an academic sanction as the result of a violation of academic integrity will not be allowed to select alternative grading for that course, he said.
“We know this pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for many in our community and we are committed to helping our students and faculty succeed,” said Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones. “Penn State’s student senators successfully advocated on behalf of their peers and constituents with the Faculty Senate. I, and my staff, will work with the Senate and the ACUE to implement this policy for the fall semester.”
Faculty Senate discussion
Student members of the Faculty Senate representing the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) first introduced the resolution requesting the reimplementation of alternative grading at the Senate’s regularly scheduled Oct. 20 meeting. Faculty Senate Chair Beth Seymour said she called the Oct. 29 special meeting in recognition of the importance and time-sensitive nature of the resolution.
In presenting the resolution, student senator Erin Boas shared that UPUA had administered a student survey on the topic of alternative grading, and over half of the roughly 5,000 respondents indicated they would opt-in to alternative grades if they were available for the fall 2020 semester. Boas said passing the resolution and reimplementing an optional alternative grading system would provide “greater ease of mind and increased mental health” among the Penn State student body.
In debating the resolution, senators raised several questions and concerns, including whether alternative grading might be appropriate in future semesters, given uncertainty on how long the coronavirus pandemic may last; if students’ future academic or career prospects might be impacted by the use of alternative grading for multiple semesters; and how the usage of alternative grading might impact majors with entrance requirements. Senators affirmed that they would consider these questions during the reimplementation of Senate Policy 49-70 for the fall, and during any consideration of continuing alternative grading for future semesters.
The student senators’ resolution passed 102-47, and the subsequent vote to reimplement the alternative grading policy passed 107-35.
Seymour said the Faculty Senate would also form a taskforce comprised of senators, students, advisers and administrators to explore the possibility of alternative grading in future semesters.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Penn State Faculty Senate will take place on Dec. 1, and will be viewable virtually on Zoom.