On 6-2-20, the ASUO Executive began circulating an “Open Letter to the University of Oregon” that expressed great concern about fellow students, especially students of color, and the unprecedented stress they are experiencing as a result of the local and national unrest over George Floyd’s murder, combined with the pandemic. In that letter, they call upon professors and course instructors to make finals “optional and non-grade diminishing” as a show of empathy and support for students. You may already be aware of this as we’ve been hearing from faculty, and we know faculty are hearing from students about this so we wanted to offer guidance on academic options available to you.
Below, we outline the tools available to both faculty and students that provide flexibility for academic coursework during these particularly trying circumstances.
First, we want to acknowledge the extraordinary time we are in, and that this is undoubtedly affecting many students’ abilities to cope with the varying demands in their lives. We also know that this particular moment is having a disproportionately negative effect on Black students, and students of color in ways that few can truly comprehend.
And we know the same is true for faculty and GEs. In pivoting to remote instruction for Winter term finals and all of Spring term, you accomplished a feat that seemed impossible at the time. To accomplish that while dealing with your own challenges from working at home, caring for children or relatives, continuing your own schoolwork, or dealing with loss and uncertainty is nothing short of remarkable. On top of all of that, this national crisis is affecting many of you in ways many of us can’t truly know. As representatives of the Academic Council and as your colleagues, we stand with you and are eager to support you however we can.
With all of this, we aren’t quite done. We know we’ve asked a great deal from you and put boundaries around instruction that some of you disagree with. We are committed to balancing the many competing needs of faculty, GEs, and students. Today, we are coming to you again to ask for your help in supporting our students. For many of our students, you represent a safe space, a tether to some kind of normalcy, a sane voice of leadership or just someone to see and hear them. We are asking that you continue being that pillar of support for your students, and that you find ways in the closing days of this term to respond with empathy and flexibility. In that, we are echoing Provost Phillips’ recent plea for us all to provide comfort and care for our students and for each other. We’d also like to offer some specific guidance in response to the open letter from the ASUO.
While we are not asking at this late date for you to completely rethink how you approach the end of the term for projects or finals, we want to remind you of changes we’ve already made that allow all of us the flexibility in closing out the term successfully.
The first specific ask is simply to hear your students. In many cases, they just need someone, you, to really hear what they are going through and offer a way through it. If they come to you for help, assume the best in them and listen. And then try to help them find solutions to get through the next thing. For many of your students, you will be the one that gets them through the next tough moment. This recent post from the Teaching Engagement Program provides some helpful ways to engage with students around the recent national events. Know that we ask this of you in the context of what is possible for you, given your situation – we do not mean to ignore the challenges and constraints you face, nor the important role you play in students’ lives.
Next, offer flexibility where it is possible and makes sense in your class. Again, assume the best intentions of your students and find ways to help where possible. To that end, here are some reminders of policies already in place, and suggestions for other ways to offer flexibility:
- The Academic Continuity expectations in place state the following: “instructors may modify course expectations such that required work is reduced or grading schemes are adjusted provided they can still meet course learning objectives.” This gives latitude for instructors to make changes to the syllabus for the advantage of students even this late in the term.
- Related to the point above, you can modify the final in terms of points, duration, format, or other ways that would ease stress on students. Consider the purpose of the final and how that might be accomplished in different ways.
- You can make the final optional and allow students to accept their grade to date.
- You can reopen closed assignments or extend assignment deadlines to provide opportunities for students.
- You can waive late penalties or waive lowest grades for some assignments.
- You can relax grading criteria, e.g., by lowering grade cutoffs.
- Remind students that they have the P/N option available to them for all courses and have until July 16, 2020 to change from graded to P/N. This option can prevent a negative effect on their GPA.
- As a last resort, you can grant an “Incomplete”. We note it as a last resort because it can create delayed work for faculty and students, and potentially delay students from moving on to higher level classes. We do want to clarify here that the incomplete policy says the following:
“An incomplete may be issued when the quality of work is satisfactory, but some minor yet essential requirement has not been completed, for reasons acceptable to the instructor. Faculty and students should develop a contract outlining the requirements and specific deadlines for making up the incomplete. Contracts should be filed in the departmental office through which the course is taught.”
We interpret this to mean that the granting of an incomplete is at the discretion of the instructor. Instructors and GEs might consult with their heads if they offer the incomplete option and clarify who will grade the work when it is submitted.
These represent options for you to respond with empathy and flexibility. We encourage you to let your students know that you have received these messages and how you intend to respond.
We regret coming to you late in the term with this. But as with so much lately, the situation changes daily. Thank you for all you are doing to support our students. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the Academic Council at any time with your thoughts, concerns or questions.
Members of the Academic Council
Senior Instructor, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Psychology,
Chair of Scholastic Review Committee
Senior II Instructor of Finance, LCB-Finance Department,
Chair of Senate Budget Committee
Professor, German and Scandinavian, Folklore and Public Culture,
Chair of Graduate Council
Senior Instructor, Assistant Department Head, Mathematics,
Chair of Academic Requirements Committee
Instructor/Advisor/Director, Biology and General Science,
Chair of Undergraduate Council
Associate Professor, Psychology,
Chair of University Library Committee
Chair of Faculty Personnel Committee
Senior Instructor I, English,
Co-Chair of Core Ed Council
Associate Professor, Math,
Co-Chair of Core Ed Council
Professor and Dept Head, Anthropology,
Chair of Committee on Courses
Chair of Academic Council
Executive Vice Provost for Academic Affairs,
Office of the Provost
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Office of the Provost,