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Wednesday, January 27, 2021
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UB students petition for S/U grading option

Students ask for extension of spring S/U grading option as concerns over challenging online courses and pandemic-related stress persist

Students walking outside the Student Union and The Commons
Students walking outside the Student Union and The Commons

Over 2,400 UB students have signed a petition demanding adjustments to UB’s Fall 2020 grading policy as of Monday. 

The Change.org petition, published Nov. 19 and addressed to UB President Satish Tripathi and Dean of Undergraduate Education Ann Bisantz, is less than 50 signatures away from its 2,500-signature goal. The petition lists numerous student concerns regarding UB’s fall distance-learning courses, including students’ experiences with “impersonal [faculty-student] relationships, technical difficulties, and distraction[s].”

A satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading option was previously made available to students last spring when rising COVID infection rates prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to order a SUNY-wide transition to distance-learning, beginning March 19. The Spring 2020 S/U grading policy allowed courses in which students earned a grade of “satisfactory” to count toward most major and UB curriculum requirements, with limited exceptions. Students could elect to receive S/U grades for some or all of their Spring 2020 courses, and none would count toward UB’s pass/fail credit limit. 

Administrators have not yet announced any grading accommodations for the Fall 2020 semester, and have not, as of Monday, responded to the petition. 

Student Association President Adolyn Cofie has organized a meeting between the SA E-board and SUNY Provost Tod Laurson to discuss students’ concerns about this semester’s unique academic challenges. 

“We have spoken to other SUNY student governments and were able to get a meeting with the SUNY Provost,” Cofie wrote in an email to Braden George, author of the petition. “While we wait on the SUNY-wide decision, we are still trying our efforts through the campus.”

Braden George, a sophomore biomedical engineering student, started the petition out of frustration that the S/U grading option was no longer available for students this fall. 

“I don’t know anyone who would say this semester is any better on grades or mental health,” George said. “We the student body are being put in nearly double the workload with often less instruction than before.”

George also expressed concern that UB “doesn’t care” about its students’ mental health and academic progress during the pandemic — a worry echoed by other students frustrated by UB’s severely limited mental health service options, and UB’s decision to continue hosting in-person courses until Nov. 24, despite exceeding New York State’s 100-case threshold for transitioning to distance learning on Nov. 20

“I really hope our administrators see what we’re trying to achieve and do something good for their student body,” George said. “It would do a lot against the stigma that UB doesn’t care about its students. That’s becoming more prevalent now.”

George said that he was inspired to write the petition after learning about a similar petition started by students at Rochester Institute of Technology. 

“I read that students at RIT recently petitioned to receive S/U grading and the school actually gave it to them,” George said. 

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RIT will be allowing students to choose S/U grades for up to two classes this semester, according to RIT Provost Ellen Granberg. 

Luke Wojnicki, a sophomore environmental engineering major, signed the petition out of concern that his poor performance in online classes did not adequately reflect what kind of student he was before the pandemic hit. 

“The petition states there are certain aspects of online learning that severely hurts students’ ability to perform to their fullest in their classes,” Wojnicki said. “The vast majority of students I know and have talked to are taking fully remote classes and all feel they aren’t performing as well as they could be [if the courses were offered] in person.”

Nate Capasso, a sophomore mechanical engineering student, also signed the petition out of frustration with the quality of his online classes and concern over his fall semester grades. 

“I signed the petition because last semester we were given the option for pass/fail when half of the semester went online,” Capasso said. “This semester I personally had classes all online which [are] lower quality compared to [my] in-person [courses].” 

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