UT Faculty Council passes resolution supporting fall 2020 pass/fail, Q-drop expansion

Andrew Zhang

The UT Faculty Council passed a resolution allowing fall 2020 undergraduate classes to be taken as pass/fail courses and count toward degree requirements during an emergency meeting Monday morning. The resolution will go to UT President Jay Hartzell and Daniel Jaffe, interim executive vice president and provost, for final approval.

Once Jaffe receives the resolution from the council, he will make his recommendation to Hartzell, who will ultimately decide, said Kathleen Harrison, communications manager for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost. No exact time is set on the process right now, she said. 

If given final approval, students can change their course to pass/fail until the Dec. 9 extended deadline. The resolution would also make all Q-drops non-academic, meaning they would not count toward the six Q-drop limit. The changes will also apply to professional pharmacy classes.

The resolution would also rewrite OTE Q-drops and Q-drops completed earlier in this semester as non-academic, said Mark Simpson, assistant vice provost and University registrar. Students would have until Dec. 9 to Q-drop a class if the resolution passes.

Council members cast votes via an anonymous Zoom poll. Thirty-nine council members voted to approve the resolution, 12 voted against, and 7 abstained. 

Simpson said changes to the grading policy would take time to process in the grading system. 

“It will take us about a month to do the coding in all the degree audit systems to make sure that a pass/fail grade counts for all the University degree requirements,” Simpson said during the meeting. “It’s feasible if the decision’s made soon that we can pull this off for students.”

The council passed grading changes for the spring 2020 semester March 26 and then-President Gregory Fenves and Maurie McInnis, then-executive vice president and provost, approved them March 27, according to the council website.

The council’s decision comes after UT Student Government, the Senate of College Councils and the Graduate Student Assembly voted to pass a joint resolution advocating for the grading changes as the pandemic continues to affect student lives. The resolution accumulated over 10,000 supporting signatures.

Student body president Anagha Kikkeri, vice president Winston Hung, Senate president Alcess Nonot and vice president Isaac James spoke in support of the resolution at the meeting, discussing multiple testimonies from students who desired the grading changes. 

They also said mental health issues among the student body were a reason to support students with these grading changes, citing an earlier report that detailed pandemic-driven mental health decline among UT students. 

“The student response to this joint resolution was the most overwhelming we’ve seen during our tenure as students at UT-Austin,” said James, a Plan II and government junior. “It’s something that students are really passionate about and really need right now.”

Eric Hirst, senior associate dean for academic affairs in the McCombs School of Business, said he reached out to three deans and six department chairs in McCombs, and they were “generally opposed” to grading changes despite their understanding of challenges students have faced. Hirst said the resolution fails to recognize student and faculty efforts this semester. 

“We should distinguish between the spring ‘20 semester, when COVID was an unexpected disruption, and fall ‘20, spring ‘21,” Hirst said.

Electrical engineering professor Brian Evans, who wrote the grading policy changes during spring 2020, said he supported the fall 2020 changes but was worried about available advising resources.

“Engineering did allocate 200 hours of additional college time to backstop the department of advisors,” Evans said. “That is not available this semester.”

History professor Alberto Martínez, a member of the faculty council executive committee, said he was strongly in favor of the resolution, and he is particularly concerned about mental health issues outlined in the survey. 

Martínez said he did some research and found that 56 other universities had approved similar pass/fail or credit/no-credit grading policies. 

“We’re dealing with a serious, historic, unprecedented national crisis,” Martínez said. “What I want to underline is that pass/fail is what (students) want.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional details of the meeting.