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Faculty’s exec committee proposes optional ‘satisfactory/not satisfactory’ grading, pending faculty council approval

The executive committee of the University of Ottawa’s faculty of engineering is proposing students be given the option, after receiving their final course mark, of having ‘satisfactory’ or ‘not satisfactory’ appear on their transcript rather than an alphanumeric grade, pending approval from the faculty council.

In an email to students and professors on Friday night, the faculty of engineering’s vice-dean governance Tim Lethbridge said the U of O’s Senate agreed on Thursday to let each faculty make decisions about the conduct of their final assessments amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Courses for the rest of the semester moved online on Wednesday.

Lethbridge outlined the guidelines for final assessments put forth by the faculty of engineering’s 14-person executive committee “after much research and debate,” pending approval from the faculty council on Monday.

The proposal from the faculty of engineering executive committee comes after students in a number of faculties put forth petitions this week to the U of O’s administration calling for 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. 

Among the other 11 points on the guideline put forth by the faculty of engineering’s executive committee is the proposal that 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.”

Last week, U of O president Jacques Frémont said exams would not be taken in person and added that plans were being developed for finals. 

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.

“Professors must communicate their intentions to students as soon as possible,” reads the email to students and professors. “If changes to the syllabus are made, the syllabus must be reposted to students.”

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.

“Since students are expected to have a large number of valid reasons for requesting exam deferral (including sickness, travel to their home country, poor internet access, excess stress, and so on), the faculty will not unreasonably withhold such deferrals,” reads the email. 

“We recognize that students are under stress, so many will not be able to perform as they otherwise would,” reads the email. “Flexibility must be shown by professors regarding attendance and late submission of work in view of the special measures put in place by the university due to the crisis.”

Among the other changes to campus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic include the closure of most campus food services, along with all libraries and athletics/recreation facilities.

Clinical placements for nursing and medical students have been suspended and counselling services have shifted online.

Additionally, the U of O says everyone but international students and those with “exceptional circumstances” must leave residence by Sunday evening

As of Saturday, there are 20 positive cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa. The latest case is a man in his 30s who was in close contact with someone with COVID-19 and is now self-isolating. 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.”

Across the province, there have been three deaths from COVID-19 and at least 368 confirmed cases of the virus as of Saturday, with six labelled as resolved. There have been at least 1,048 confirmed cases of the virus and 13 deaths in Canada.

COVID-19 has infected more than 299,000 people and killed over 12,000 globally since emerging in China in December 2019. There have been over 91,000 recoveries from the virus.

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