Faculty Senate holds hearing for Dean’s List criterion raise and grade forgiveness policy
BY Associate News Editor
On Monday, a special session of the Faculty Senate Committee on Undergraduate Education met to pose two broad policy proposals meant to improve the university’s academic standing: should the GPA criterion for the Dean’s List honor be raised, and should the university implement some form of grade forgiveness policy?
The first of these new policies was not just proposed in order to push students of the university further, but also to bring the university up to speed with the rest of the American higher-education world.
Currently, undergraduate students earning a semester GPA of 3.33 or higher for a full-time course load are placed on the Dean’s List. The Committee proposes raising that criterion to 3.5 in order to combat increasing grade-inflation. According to a study by Earl “Rusty” Lee, the interim director of the Honors Program, the university is the only institution among comparable universities like the University of Michigan, Penn State University, Rutgers University and others to use such a low threshold as 3.33.
In Fall 1998, when the minimum term GPA for the Dean’s List was raised from 3.25 to 3.33, 25 percent of full-time undergraduate students earned that distinction. Since then, the percentage of the student population on the Dean’s List has roughly doubled. Many senators resented the commonality of the Dean’s List and favored raising to the criterion to match the majority of the country.
“It’s not an honor if 50 percent of students are on Dean’s List,” Zachary Jackson, an academic advisor in the College of Nursing, said. “If we want to call Dean’s List an honor, we can’t say ‘Oh, congratulations, you’ve beat out the median person.’”
A grade forgiveness policy would allow students to retake classes in which they had previously failed or otherwise done poorly. The student’s first attempt would then be removed from their GPA calculation.
“We have a significant pool of students who face problems with grades during their transition to UD from high school or other colleges, despite previous academic success that led to their admission here,” Brian Hanson, a professor of geology and chairman of the Committee of Undergraduate Studies, said. “Early missteps are a permanent part of the UD GPA. Avoiding these early GPA holes is a retention issue. Having some kind of clemency policy is more common than not among our comparator institutions, putting our students at a competitive disadvantage.”
Two-thirds of other “comparator institutions” use some form of a grade forgiveness policy, according to Hanson. Senators voiced opposition to the grade forgiveness idea on the grounds that it might disincentivize students from excelling.
“I’m responsible for thousands of students each year, and I make it a priority to be fair for all of them,” Jens Schubert, an assistant economics professor, said. “Don’t just look at the niche, look at those who would not feel so warmly towards this policy. If students who are failing get this policy, then students who are getting As and Bs should as well. Otherwise, they’ll ask why they have to work so hard when they could just fail a class and retake it later.”
Other critics argued that grade forgiveness might be unfair to less affluent students because financially well-off students could afford to retake more classes.
“With this policy, students who are more affluent would then be able to buy a better GPA,” Jama Allegretto Lynch, associate director of the honors program, said.
“With respect, is there any aspect of this university in which being better off does not give you an advantage?” Hanson said in reply.
The Committee did not estimate when these proposals would be presented to the full body of the Faculty Senate for a vote.