Oakland University to offer satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading option for winter 2020 classes

Trevor Tyle, Editor-in-Chief

Campus administrators have announced plans to offer a satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) grading option for undergraduate classes this semester. The announcement is a direct response to students who have expressed concerns over grades being affected by the shift to online learning for the remainder of the semester.

Under this evaluation system, any courses for which students choose to receive a satisfactory (S) grade will not be used for calculation of their overall grade point average (GPA). 

“The decision to allow this flexibility is a direct acknowledgement of this unprecedented situation,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost James Lentini in an email sent to faculty last week. “We expect you to continue to seek the most from your courses. Although this takes these unusual circumstances into account, you should be sure to look at the implications of receiving an S/U grade given your own situation. Our advisers are ready to assist in determining what is in your own best interest in the short- and long-term.”

The resolution, which was finalized Friday, March 20, was prompted by two student-based petitions circulating online that were reviewed by the Division of Academic Affairs. 

The first petition called for classes to be evaluated on a credit/no credit basis to account for many students’ lack of resources and preparation to adapt to online learning. 

“This solution will provide equality for all students and allow the students to maintain some sense of normalcy in their college careers,” the petition read. “We understand that this virus is not in your control. We didn’t choose to be in this situation. We didn’t get a say in what happens, but OU administration does have the ability to guide us students in this difficult time.”

A counter-petition was created, arguing that classes this semester should have an effect on students’ GPAs and reward them for continuing to work hard in their coursework despite the change in course format.

“For students to see all of their hard work not pay off would be very detrimental,” the petition read, “as the decision to evaluate courses in this manner would essentially level the playing field between students performing at the top of their class and students performing at a ‘C’ level, or passing.”

According to Senior Associate Provost Michelle Piskulich, the issue was taken to Student Congress (OUSC) as well, where it was heavily debated.

I personally believe that the option for pass/fail should be placed in the hands of students after their grades have been calculated,” said Student Body President Destinee Rule prior to the decision. “I believe giving this option prematurely will result in students — including myself — to completely ‘check out’ and no longer care about any of my classes.”

Ultimately, administrators felt that giving students a choice would be the best solution.

“The student will have the option,” Piskulich said. “We can’t get much more flexible than that.”

At the end of the semester, faculty will submit grades to the registrar’s office as usual. Once final grades have been submitted, students will have 10 days to decide if they wish to convert courses to S/U grading. 

“I would never want to undermine any of the work that faculty has put into this transition,” Rule said. “However, I would like for students to be given the opportunity to select pass/fail. That way, we are holding every party accountable for the endless amount of work and effort they put into this transition.”

Under this evaluation system, all letter grades of C or above will be converted to S for undergraduate students who elect to do so.

There will not be a limit on the number of courses a student can convert to S/U grading, but some courses will be exempt from the S/U evaluation system. Piskulich said additional information, including classes to which S/U grading does not apply, will be communicated to students closer to the end of the semester.

She also acknowledged that administrators decided on an optional S/U grading system to accommodate students that would not benefit from it, such as those considering professional or graduate school. Certain disciplines, such as nursing and secondary teacher education programs (STEP), often require a letter grade above a C for admission or to meet specific program requirements. 

“For some students who are wanting to go to grad school … to have the actual grade might be more beneficial to them going in, even if it was not a perfect grade,” Piskulich said. “[They should also consider] the ability to move from one level to another, particularly in the areas where we have to demonstrate that there’s a core competence in order to take that next step.”

Additionally, while the S/U evaluation system will alleviate some students’ concerns about potentially lower grades, Piskulich said letter grades might actually be more beneficial to some students.

“If you are wanting to improve your GPA and it turns out that you did great in online classes and that wasn’t your expectation, you might want to keep the GPA points because S/U won’t help your GPA,” she said. “It won’t hurt it, it won’t help it, it’ll just keep it what it is.”

Administration is also working diligently to ensure S/U grades will not affect students from a financial standpoint.

“We also want to make sure that students aren’t hurt in terms of progress to degree by any financial aid rules,” Piskulich said. “So, we’re really going to ask students to talk to their adviser before they make a final decision about that.”

Additional information regarding S/U grading will be released in the coming weeks to help students determine what will be most beneficial for them.