The Faculty Senate met Wednesday to review how COVID-19 will affect the university’s approach to grading policy for graduate students, the budget for the next school year, employee layoffs and fall classes.
Provost Jennifer Cowley said the university will not implement pass/fail grading for graduate students as it did for undergraduates.
“The grading scale for graduate students is different and the number of students who receive grades lower than an A or a B is very small compared to undergraduate courses,” Cowley said. “The number of students who may be impacted with an actual failure is going to be substantially lower than you would have in a normal undergraduate situation.”
The university instead asked programs to consider waiving the requirement saying graduate students may have no more than two Cs. Students in the fifth or sixth year of their doctoral studies will also have an additional one semester of eligibility for their fellowship or Technology Ventures Program.
“In many cases, depending on the academic program you’re in, working with your advisor and your faculty chair make stronger outcomes than a pass/no pass broad announcement might,” Cowley said. “There was a lot of thought put into what do graduate students need that is different from what undergraduate students need.”
Graduate Student Council President Tiffany Miller said she was bothered by some of the justification for the decision and she would keep pushing for pass/fail.
“We very much feel like we’re not our needs and our concerns are not being taken into consideration and our safety net feels very hollow,” Miller said. “The emphasis that faculty and staff will be encouraged to be attentive is nice, but it’s not nearly as solid as ‘If you don’t do well you have the option of pass/no pass and it not ruining your GPA.’ We’re not getting that level of assurance and it’s causing even more concern.”
Cowley said she would meet with GSC to further discuss the implications of and reasons behind the university’s decision to opt for other grading policies.
President Neal Smatresk said with retention possibly decreasing — partially because international students may not want to or be able to attend the university in the fall— they are looking at $40-50 million losses in revenue.
“Next year we’re concerned with enrollment, particularly in things we can’t really control ourselves like international students getting visas so that they can get here,” Smatresk said. “We will be getting federal stimulus funding. We will get somewhere in the order of $28 million. Half that will be spent supporting student grant needs. We don’t know all the details of the federal legislation, yet we have some pretty good ideas of how the money can be applied.”
The university will delay what it deems to be unnecessary construction projects to help with the budget concerns.
Smatresk confirmed the university anticipates layoffs and furloughs for some employees whose jobs do not function in a telecommuting setting.
“We have a number of people who are home with no meaningful work,” Smatresk said. “They are essential employees and whatever they were doing can’t be replicated by telecommuting. We might have to make some hard decisions about that going forward in the summer.”
The university is preparing in case the pandemic affects fall classes, as Cowley said they have every reason to believe the virus could resurge.
“One option is we just go through exactly what we’ve gone through,” Cowley said. “We stop in the middle of the semester and move everybody to remote delivery. Another option is we consider rethinking what the fall semester looks like. One scenario is we use our eight-week terms and put two eight-week terms in, and divide the sections between those two terms hoping that we can deliver all of one or the other term.”
Smatresk said the university is also forming a plan to address the financial concerns for the next school year that he feels will have support across campus.
“It’s a pretty significant sum of money that we hope to trim out of the budget for the remainder of this year,” Smatresk said. “I also believe that we’re looking at every possible resource that we can. We’re going to come out of this in a better competitive position than we were in before.
Featured Image: Provost Jeniffer Cowley speaks to the UNT faculty senate on Feb. 12, 2020. Meetings are now being held online due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in Denton County. Image by Ryan Cantrell