Faculty Senate discusses alternative grading system for spring semester

By Kierra Frazier

DeKALB – The Faculty Senate began conversations at Wednesday’s meeting to provide a pass/fail grading system for the spring semester. 

While there are no set plans for the grading system, undergraduate and graduate students not in the College of Law were able to change any of their courses to a “Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory” grading system in the Spring 2020 semester but not last fall. 

The change came as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and after many universities made similar changes last spring. 

Now, the university is considering making a similar change in the grading system after receiving mostly positive feedback from faculty members from last spring semester, Faculty Senate President Kendall Thu said.

“It’s really up to us to kind of shape the way we want to approach grading for the spring semester,” Thu said. “It could be just normal grading; it could be something similar to last spring, although that has logistical challenges; it could be the way we did it in the fall or maybe something different than that.” 

Concerns around the “Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory” grading were raised at the meeting because of the impacts it may have on financial aid for students who receive an “unsatisfactory” grade. Receiving this grade may affect whether a student completes enough credits to qualify for financial aid. 

Faculty members also discussed the importance of waiting until the end of the semester to determine whether or not an alternative grading system will be available so students continue to complete their classwork. 

Chemistry professor Evgueni Nesterov said the introduction of pass/fail would help students to at least continue studying and progress towards their academic education and would serve as an extra option.

Brad Beyer, speaker of the SGA Senate, said providing an alternative grading system would be helpful to students who are struggling, but the decision shouldn’t be made now and instead in the coming months. 

“From what I was told in my interactions with students is that there are still students struggling obviously, and there’s a lot going on because of the pandemic,” Beyer said. “One of the other things I hear from students is that if we’re going to make changes to grading, why don’t we do pass/fail unanimously, but I understand it’s not as simple as that.” 

Many faculty members also thought that providing an alternative grading system would help solve some of the inherent equity issues. 

Todd Buck, professor of illustration at NIU’s School of Art and Design, said oftentimes when a student is performing poorly in class, it’s because they have limited access to WiFi or inadequate computer equipment. 

“That to me seems like an equity issue, and I’d hate to fail them seeing that they don’t have the same resources as other students in the same class,” Buck said. 

Anthropology professor Kristen Borre echoed Buck’s comments and said there was more of a division between failures and A and B grades due to students with busy work schedules, access to the internet and assignment due dates. 

“I tried to work as best I could with students about allowing them to submit late papers,” Borre said. “However, some of them were so far behind that even if they’d done the work, they couldn’t have passed.” 

Beth Ingram, executive vice president and provost of NIU, said she’ll bring data regarding how well students performed in the spring and fall semester classes last year to help faculty make a decision about the grading system at a later meeting.