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The SITE building, seen in September 2019. Photo: Rame Abdulkader/The Fulcrum

Measure from faculty comes after classes moved online last week, students petitioned for optional pass/fail grading

The faculty of engineering at the University of Ottawa will give students the choice, after receiving their final course mark, of having ‘satisfactory’ or ‘not satisfactory’ appear on their transcript rather than an alphanumeric grade, the vice-dean (governance) announced in an email to students on Monday afternoon. 

The pass/fail grading system for engineering students was originally proposed in a set of guidelines for final assessments released by the faculty’s 14-person executive committee on Friday night, pending approval from the faculty council. The faculty council approved those guidelines on Monday.  

The decision from the faculty of engineering comes after courses for the remainder of the semester moved online last week, the majority of campus shut down, and most students were forced to leave residence by Sunday due to the COVID-19 pandemic. U of O president Jacques Fremont has also said final exams will not be held in person.

Students in a number of faculties launched petitions last week calling for the U of O’s administration to introduce optional pass/fail final course grading systems. Students highlighted inequalities created by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as housing insecurity and barriers to learning resources, that could hinder academic performance. 

The university Senate ruled on Thursday to let each faculty make decisions about the conduct of their final assessments amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The faculty of social sciences has also adopted an optional pass/fail final course grading system for undergraduate students. 

Faculty of engineering vice-dean (governance) Tim Lethbridge said in his email that if students opt for the ‘satisfactory’ or ‘not satisfactory’ grading system, it would not be used in calculating their GPA. A ‘satisfactory’ grade is equal to a passing grade in the program the course is in.

Lethbridge wrote that the measures apply only to courses in the faculty of engineering, and engineering students will be subject to the rules of other faculties if they are taking courses within them. 

“We are negotiating with the university in all other situations,” wrote Lethbridge. “We will do everything we can to resolve this as soon as possible.”

According to Lethbridge’s email, the process for opting for the pass/fail grading is still being determined, but it will be “straightforward” “secure.”

Lethbridge’s email also touches on the difficulties students could face while completing finals due to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If a student faces difficulties printing an exam, they can submit photos of written answers on blank paper or typed answers as well. Students can also use the COVID-19 self-declaration form to request an academic accommodation. 

Students who dropped a course before the deadline to do so without impacting their transcript was pushed back will be able to reinstate their registration now that the pass/fail system has been introduced. 

The guidelines for finals in the faculty of engineering also say professors at the undergraduate level should hold final assessments, “unless authorized by the chair and associate chair not to do so.” But at the graduate level, “exams are not necessary if a professor has gathered enough other evidence that students have mastered the learning objectives of the course.”

According to the guidelines, engineering professors using exams will typically require students to complete the final online synchronously at the time allocated by the faculty if the exam would have normally been held in person. The guidelines note that professors should be prepared to give students extra time to complete the exam, to accommodate those who would normally use Access Services or who encounter technical difficulties.

If different faculty of engineering professors are teaching separate sections of a course, they must use the same evaluation method. This should apply to both English and French sections if possible, according to the guidelines, and professors are encouraged to adopt approaches minimizing the risk of cheating.

As of Monday, there were 24 positive cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa but none confirmed in the U of O community. 

The city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches says “there could now be hundreds to even a thousand cases in the community now.” 

Etches urge everyone to remain home and only leave the house unless necessary, such as for a weekly grocery trip.

Across the province, there have been six deaths from COVID-19 and at least 489 confirmed cases of the virus as of Monday, with eight labelled as resolved. 

There have been at least 1,432 confirmed cases of the virus and 20 deaths across Canada.

Globally, COVID-19 has infected more than 378,000 people and killed over 16,500 since emerging in China in December 2019. There have been over 100,000 recoveries from the virus.

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