Annie Deitz, Campus Carrier managing editor

Katelynn Singleton, Campus Carrier staff writer

Last Thursday, the Academic Council passed a policy that will permit students to retroactively change their grades from last semester to be listed in their transcripts on a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) scale, rather than the previously assigned letter grade. 

According to Berry Provost Mary Boyd, at the time of publication, under this new policy, students will have the option to convert the grade of one class to be satisfactory, assuming the grade is between an “A” and a “D,” or unsatisfactory, assuming the grade is an F. All students will be allowed to convert one grade with the permission of their academic advisor. 

As Boyd further explained, opting to convert a letter grade into the S/U scale will neutralize that letter grade’s effect on a student’s GPA. If a student transfers an “F” grade to a “U,” they will not get the credit for the course. Boyd advised students to fully discuss the implications of that transition with their advisors and the financial aid office prior to making a decision. Students may be required to retake a course, and it could alter a student’s financial aid situation.

“If you have a U in a course that is part of your major or minor, and it’s a major required course, you’re going to need to retake it,” Boyd said. “You will still have to complete those hours because all students still need to complete the minimum hours for graduation. Then there are also potentially financial aid implications. So, students should always talk with financial aid, and their advisors, before making any decisions.”

In order to convert more than one letter grade to the S/U scale, students will have to work with the Academic Success Center (ASC) to create a personalized academic success plan. As dean of students Lindsey Taylor explained, this requirement was included in the policy to ensure that students did not just use the S/U system to cover their past mistakes without learning from them. Rather, students should learn from last semester and apply what they learn to future semesters.

“This is not intended as a scapegoat for performance,” Taylor said. “It’s truly intended for hope, for a space to catch your breath, to navigate a tough situation. Any students that need this with more than one class, engaging with the Academic Success Center, will really engage them this upcoming semester as they move forward this semester, and next fall.”

Associate Dean for Student Success Anna Sharpe explained that the ASC will be working with students on an individual basis to reflect on last semester and make plans for the future. She encouraged students to have a deep and attentive conversation with their academic advisor prior to making the decision, as each individual situation is complex and not all students will benefit by switching to the S/U scale. If they do, however, the ASC will be able to assist them in the process and for future success. 

“For other students that may not be a prudent decision for a variety of reasons,” Sharpe said. “I really ask students to be attentive when speaking with their advisors before they take this step. If a student does decide to go for it, [the ASC] will be working to be a sounding board and a place for students to reflect on what their plan is for a successful spring semester. Students will come in and do a bit of reflecting and planning and then they’ll be able to move forward in the process from there. Students were facing stressors on so many levels and I think this is a good tool as students are to move forward from the complexity of the fall semester.”

According to Thomas Kennedy, dean of Evans school of humanities, arts and social sciences, Berry faculty and staff recognized, and even shared in the experiences of, difficulties related to the COVID-19 pandemic during fall semester. In Kennedy’s view, this policy is a way to acknowledge and try to overcome those problems.

“I think it’s a good way to indicate to students that we know it was a difficult semester for students, it was a difficult semester for faculty, and that we care about that, it matters to us,” Kennedy said. “We wanted an acknowledgement of encouragement to students who found the semester discouraging.”

Lindsey Taylor elaborated on the reasoning behind the introduction of the proposal in the first place, explaining that the complicated national and local environment of the last several months led the Council to recognize that the policy might be beneficial to students.

“We are in a moment of such stress, and so when you look at the culmination of impacts of COVID, in two areas, students having to quarantine and isolate, and then students having to navigate and manage classes that are constantly pivoting,” Taylor said. “The weight of managing those things took a toll. The political unrest, and that unrest layered with us not being able to be a community, it just compiled tensions. Then the racial unrest. That impacted students on this campus in ways that many of us on this campus will never truly understand. Any of those reasons independently would have been difficult for our campus community. This is one small way for faculty, for the college, to say we get it, we understand.”

There are two students on Academic Council who participated in the discussions on the topic. Senior Max von Schmeling, SGA vice president of administration, explained that as a representative of the student body, he worked to provide more student input and share more student stories.

“At our January meeting, we talked about data regarding grades and the grade spread from last semester as opposed to the grade spread of past years,” von Schmeling said. “There was a bit of a discrepancy when it came to D’s and F’s. It brought up S/U as an option, because once we got through the semester, we saw that something had been going on. COVID didn’t just make school harder, COVID made just about everything harder. SGA’s role in this was to try to connect those numbers to real stories. We reached out to people to hear how their semester had been, how that differed from past semesters at Berry. We tried to get a hold of as many statements like that as we could.”

The recently passed S/U policy only applies to the Fall 2020 semester. The Council has not made any decisions regarding grading plans for the spring.

“Spring of 2021 is not included in this policy,” Boyd said. “No decision has been made yet about this semester. Students should operate under the assumption that there will not be a satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading policy for this semester.”

While some of the details remain to be finalized, Boyd explained that students will receive more information from the Provost’s Office regarding how to participate in the S/U grading transition by the end of this week. 

Boyd advises that students, regardless of their decision about Fall of 2020 grade changes, continue to take advantage of the resources at Berry to overcome the challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic. 

“As always, I would say, I want to encourage students to seek the support or resources they need to be successful”, Boyd said. The Academic Success Center, the Writing Center, the Counseling Center, your academic advisor, and anyone else. We have this tremendous network of support for students, and we really want them to take advantage of the resources that are being provided.”

Posted by Campus Carrier

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