KU offers students optional way to be graded after COVID-19 forces abrupt changes

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo

University of Kansas students visit and pass between classes outside of Wescoe Hall and across Jayhawk Boulevard from Strong Hall on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015.

Joining a growing number of universities around the country, the University of Kansas told faculty members on Monday that it would offer students the option to take all of their courses for credit — rather than a grade — in light of the abrupt switch to online learning.

The move to online-only courses, forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, required university leaders to examine whether temporary changes were needed to finish out the academic year.

“The immediate result of COVID-19 is that all of us, most clearly our students, graduate teaching assistants, faculty, advisors, as well as other staff who support instruction, are facing pressures and challenges that did not exist before the move to online classes and the closure of schools and businesses,” Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer said in a campus message.

KU’s decision came hours after Law School Dean Stephen Mazza announced law courses would be graded on a “satisfactory/unsatisfactory” scale, which means the school has the flexibility to define expectations. Law school students do not have the option to elect to take a letter grade in their courses.

The credit/no credit system that will be in place for the rest of the university determines whether students get credit for a class based on whether they get a “C” or higher. Normally, KU students can elect to take one course per semester that is outside their major requirements for credit rather than for a grade.

“We are all struggling to adapt to such rapid and radical changes in the way we provide education and engage with each other in the instructional environment,” Bichelmeyer said. “It is absolutely essential that the grading policy adopted by KU at this time does not further damage the ability of our students to make progress toward completion of their degree program.”

Students will have until April 17 to decide whether to take their courses for credit rather than for a grade that counts toward their overall grade point average. They are asked to consult with an academic adviser before doing so, and KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson cautioned that it would be a day or two before the university’s system was set up to handle an influx of student requests.

“The important thing for students to know is that our online system needs to be updated to accommodate their academic requests, and these updates will be happening in the days ahead,” she said in an email.

The decision to give students a choice, rather than make credit/no credit a university policy, was arrived at due to many academic and financial aid opportunities being based on grades rather than on whether a student simply received credit for a course.

In addition to changing the university grading policy, Bichelmeyer — who as provost is the university’s top academic decision-maker — announced several changes that will affect faculty members.

Annual evaluations of academic personnel for 2019 are now due May 1, rather than in March as previously scheduled. KU also granted an optional one-year extension to the timeline for faculty on a tenure track. Faculty who want to continue the tenure review process rather than delay it a year can choose to do so.

KU will also continue student evaluations of professors, though Bichelmeyer said the results should be used mostly for “informational and developmental” purposes given the rapid changes the entire university had to undergo.

“Daily I am amazed and impressed by, and so greatly appreciative of, the spirit of service to our students, the willingness to innovate, the sense of stewardship to the university, and the love of community that I see from every Jayhawk I meet,” she said.

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