Highlander Write-off: Should UC Riverside adopt a Satisfactory/No Credit grading basis for spring 2020?

Drawn by Justus Ross

UC Riverside should default to a Satisfactory/No Credit grading basis system for the 2020 spring quarter

By: Samuel Harrison, SSW 

Left with no choice following Governor Gavin Newsom’s lockdown order, all nine University of California (UC) schools have closed their campuses over the past month due to the developing COVID-19 pandemic. Campus administrators have transitioned their academic systems to an online, remote model in response to the crisis, but as this past week at UC Riverside (UCR) has demonstrated, this remote system is not without its shortcomings. Professors and students alike faced connection and security issues, none of which bode well for the rest of the academic term. This all comes at a time when students are especially emotionally vulnerable. 

With so many students unable to learn and perform at their usual level academically, the UCR administration should consider adopting a Satisfactory/No Credit (S/NC) as the default grading system until campuses are safe to open again. 

If UCR admin were to make the change to a default S/NC grading basis, they would be in good company. On March 20, UC Berkeley’s administration announced that the school’s undergraduate courses will default to S/NC for the spring 2020 semester. Former regulations preventing students from enrolling S/NC in classes needed for their major have been temporarily suspended, and students were given the option to change their grading basis back to the traditional A-F basis before a May 6 deadline. A notation will also be placed on the spring 2020 semester’s transcripts explaining the circumstances to inquiring employers and graduate programs. 

The adoption of a similar system would be welcomed by UCR students concerned about their upcoming academic performance. The COVID-19 crisis is unlike any global crisis our generation has yet to face, and the stress that comes with confronting such an epidemic leaves many of us feeling hopeless. Many students are forced to continue working in at-risk locations, like supermarkets and other public environments, if they hope to keep a roof over their head and food on their table. It is hard to focus on your studies when you’re perpetually worried about contracting the virus.  

Looking past the crippling stress and the already apparent technical issues acting upon students this quarter, we must also come to terms with the fact that many classes will be made much harder by the very nature of them being online. The UCR faculty, like the students, have been forced to adapt to an unpredictable change in how these classes are run, and the span of a few weeks is not enough time to properly restructure something like an organic chemistry wet lab, for instance. 

Especially unfortunate classes were subjected to a prank this week that many are calling “Zoombombing,” a practice that involves individuals — many of whom are not students themselves — entering zoom calls and disturbing the class with racist, homophobic and otherwise discriminatory outbursts. Students’ grades will suffer for the improper adaptation of classes to an online format. Making these classes S/NC by default would reduce student stress substantially. 

Of course, the S/NC grading basis does come with an important caveat. A satisfactory grade will not impact a student’s GPA in any way, instead only providing the student with the credits the course represents. Because a student does not receive a traditional A-F grade on their transcript at the end of the quarter, they don’t have a chance to improve their academic standing. This is especially worrying for students applying for prestigious graduate schools, as they will need the GPA points a proper letter grade provides in order to stay competitive during the admissions process. Students who require that boost in GPA suffer if the S/NC system is made mandatory. 

Several colleges, including Stanford, Columbia and Dartmouth, have already made the S/NC grading basis mandatory, leaving those hoping to raise their GPA no opportunity to do so. No two students’ circumstances are exactly the same, and to avoid falling into a similar trap, UCR administration needs to account for these different needs. This is all the more reason to adopt UC Berkeley’s system. As mentioned above, while UC Berkeley has made S/NC the default, students can contact the office of the registrar and request to change their grading option to the traditional A-F scale, allowing students time to decide whether or not they need the S/NC scale. With this system, all students would be given a chance to succeed. 

Opinions on which grading option is best are highly polarized at the moment, so the administration can do nothing but continue listening to its student body. Leaving the system as it is will disadvantage many overburdened students, but forcing them to take their classes S/NC may prevent them from achieving the level of academic success they have been working toward. The safest option is to default to a Satisfactory/No Credit grading basis. This grading basis would offer students a choice: those looking to raise their GPA should not be barred from doing so, but students who find it difficult to perform well academically during these unprecedented times should be given a safety net.  


Drawn by Justus Ross

UC Riverside should not implement mandatory Satisfactory/No Credit courses

By: Silvia Ferrer, CW

The spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent shift to online classes and campus closures has left many universities scrambling. Universities have come under fire for their decisions regarding eviction notices to on-campus residents, commencement and most recently, whether to alter grading practices. At UCR, students in good academic standing are given the choice to take courses on a Satisfactory/No Credit (S/NC) grading basis, earning unit credits if they pass but no GPA points for the course. Courses graded as Satisfactory, or a C grade, may only be taken for a limit of one-third of total units awarded for a degree.

However, forcing a Satisfactory/No Credit on the student body is not the best solution. While quarantine and the abrupt shift to online classes is a clear indicator that we are not living in normal times, these changes won’t last forever. Soon enough, campuses will fill with students once again, and students with hopes of going to graduate school or law school, where GPA is paramount, will have to suffer the consequences of a quarter in which the standard A-F grading scale is tossed aside. 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was one of the first schools to announce a campuswide shift from an A-F grading system to a S/NC system, in hopes that this would relieve pressures on students who are learning remotely. It is important to note that MIT itself carries a certain level of prestige; its alumni include the second person to walk on the moon and one of the physicists that worked on the Manhattan Project. Undergraduates from schools like MIT can offset a subpar GPA when applying to graduate school simply because of the name brand that a university like MIT offers. 

Undergraduates from a school like UCR, however, may not have the same leg up in graduate school or law school applications, especially because this shift into S/NC grading practices means that students will not receive GPA points. Students who may have the time to focus on their studies without the commotion of being on campus will not be able to take advantage of this situation and therefore, boost their GPA. While many schools claim that a shift into S/NC grading criteria is going to relieve stress on students who may be struggling with housing insecurity, loss of income or reliable internet access, universities are aware that these issues will not be permanent concerns; soon, GPA will once again become one of the most critical modes of evaluating academic success.

Considering that graduate school and law school application processes are already cutthroat, universities cannot rely on their good will or understanding once the pandemic chaos settles down. Low-income students with average GPAs in particular may be impacted by the forced transition when applying to professional degrees, as scholarships are offered to students on a merit-based, rather than a need-based, basis. This usually means that the students with stellar test scores and high GPAs are the ones who receive these scholarships.

Furthermore, for students who need to uphold certain GPAs to receive financial aid, to participate in extracurricular programs or to be released from academic probation or to transfer to four-year institutions, this shift to S/NC may only prove to be harmful. For example, spring quarter grades may be the determining factor in whether a student involved in Greek life is allowed to remain in their chapter. Students who are on academic probation and receive a C minus in a course —  which on UCR’s S/NC scale is a failing grade — may face academic consequences that they otherwise would have avoided on the A-F grading scale. 

Instead of moving grading scales to S/NC campuswide, all universities should offer the choice to students — after all, students are the best source to consult in these cases, instead of administrators who may be out of touch with the needs of the student population. It would be unfair for students who can dedicate their time fully to courses to not have the option to take courses on an A-F scale, just as it would be unfair for students who are struggling to find a suitable study space, access to reliable internet and balance concentrating on schoolwork with financial or familial responsibilities to be judged on harsh grading scale.

The university has a duty to address the inequities within the student population and that means that it is their responsibility to come up with creative solutions. Carnegie Mellon University, for example, has instructed faculty to grade students with letter grades as normal; at the end of the course, students have the option of switching classes to S/NC or keep their letter grade. Duke University has switched to a S/NC system across all courses, but is allowing students to apply to the registrar to receive letter grades. At other campuses, students are petitioning to scrap the existing system altogether. Cal State Fullerton students, for example, launched a petition to implement a universal pass system.

Every UC campus is implementing different policies, but one thing is clear: UC Riverside should keep their status and the makeup of their student body in mind while making such a significant decision, instead of making the hasty, lazy decision of switching to a campuswide S/NC system.

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