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The FSS 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 University of Ottawa faculty of social sciences will give undergraduate students the choice, after receiving their final mark for a course, of opting for a ‘satisfactory’ or ‘not satisfactory’ final grade rather than a typical alphanumeric grade, the dean announced in an email to students on Monday morning. 

Dean Victoria Barham says measures for graduate courses will be announced shortly. 

The decision 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, including social sciences, 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. 

A satisfactory or not satisfactory grade will have “no impact on your cumulative average for the previous session, either upward or downward,” Barham wrote in the email. 

“Converting to (a satisfactory or not satisfactory) grade can, in some cases, adversely impact your eligibility to graduate, to obtain or continue to receive scholarships, as well as admission to professional faculties and graduate studies,” Barham added, urging students to weigh the pros and cons of the new system. 

According to Barham’s email, students will be contacted in the first week of April on how to request a satisfactory or not satisfactory final course grade. 

The faculty of social sciences says professors who teach courses with written assignments due before the end of the semester and before the exam period are “are strongly encouraged to accept late work without penalty for at least seven days after the scheduled submission date.”

When it comes to finals at the undergraduate level in the faculty of social sciences, students are not required to write final exams, which would include typical classroom exams, home exams, essays, and end-of-term assignments.

Instead, professors will submit the best of the following two final grades for each student: “the final grade which includes all the assessments (re-weighted to 100 per cent) other than the final exam,” or “the final grade which includes all assessments, including the final exam,” according to Barham.  

However, these measures do not apply to internships, honours thesis courses, directed research courses, and directed reading courses.

Barham added that students will not be able to receive a deferral for the April exam session and if they do not take the final exam, their mark will be calculated on the work submitted before the start of the exam period. 

“These measures are intended to reduce the pressure and tensions that are burdening all of us at the moment, while ensuring that you can complete your courses and obtain your diploma,” wrote Barham.

Barham added the measures were approved by the entire management team of the faculty, including vice-deans and the directors of each department. 

“Rest assured that we all desire to support you through the difficult times that we are currently living through,” wrote Barham. 

As of Monday morning, 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 morning, 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 367,000 people and killed over 16,000 since emerging in China in December 2019. There have been over 100,000 recoveries from the virus.

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