Kutztown University: COVID-19 Academic Demands (Academic Equity Accommodations)

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THE MENTAL HEALTH OF STUDENTS MATTER.

Together we can make a change. Together We Roar! Distress immediately incurs when a university's administration decides that protecting its institutional legacy takes prioritization over the safety and well-being of its students. We are in unprecedented times, so we must adapt in a manner that is equitable to all, especially students. COVID-19 has disrupted and destroyed the lives of countless people, and students have been precipitously affected by its devastation. A university’s #1 focus should be the health and wellness of its student population, so we (KU Resist*) created a list of 10 demands (academic equity accommodations) that allows our well-being to be prioritized, not trivialized and ignored. After the list of 10 demands, the petition breaks down and explains why we are asking for that specific accommodation, so that you will have a complete understanding of our needs. Students deserve to have their needs met, without arbitrary decisions being made by administrators who have not once consulted us.

The 10 Demands

#1 – Graduate Students will be allowed to take any course, of their choosing, Pass/Fail.

#2 – The Pass/Fail grade system will be changed to the following: Pass is any grade that is an A, B, C, D, and NC (No Credit) is an F only.

#3 – If a course cannot be taught online, without a significant drop off between in-class learning and distance learning, the student will receive an automatic “Pass.”

#4 – Attendance and Participation will not factor into grading.

#5 – Students will be allowed to submit ALL “late” course work (without penalty to their grade) until May 15th.

#6 – Classes will end on May 8th, but the deadline for students to submit course work will be extended until 11:59 pm on May 15th.

#7 – If the Kutztown University Administration does not agree to the previous demand, then they need to reimburse the tuition of all students for the week of March 16th - March 20th.

#8 – Students who receive an F (letter grade system) or a NC (pass/fail system) will automatically receive an incomplete and allowed a fair opportunity to “Pass” the course in the Summer or Fall.

#9 – The incomplete deadline for Fall 2019 and Winter 2020 courses will be extended until 11:59 pm on May 15th.

#10 – Grades will be released on Tuesday, May 26th.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” We are all experiencing the effects of COVID-19, so to pretend like everything is alright or to go about business, as usual, is disgusting and inhumane. Our country is at war, and Kutztown University Administration must take the necessary steps to ensure that it is protecting the well-being of its students without trivializing the effects that COVID-19 has on our health, wellness, and way of life. Otherwise, it is not good to be golden.

#1Graduate Students will be allowed to take any course, of their choosing, Pass/Fail. Many students (not just undergraduate students) are experiencing psychological, emotional, mental, physical, and financial distress, so it has become challenging and for some downright impossible to concentrate on their studies. Allowing students to take courses pass/fail releases some of that stress, so that they can focus on their health and well-being. This option also gives graduate students who wish to keep their letter grade that choice, without affecting them. Not offering the same accommodations for graduate students, which you are offering to undergraduate students, is unjust. If a graduate student was placed on academic warning or academic probation before March 8th (2020) their academic standing will not be lowered after the Spring Semester, but it can be raised. Thus, they will be allowed another full-term semester to achieve appropriate academic standing, if not reached after this Spring Semester. (Demand #2 through Demand #10 applies to graduate students and undergraduate students.)

#2The Pass/Fail grade system will be changed to the following: Pass is any grade that is an A, B, C, D, and NC (No Credit) is an F only. In our current letter grade system, any grade that is not an F (even a D) is an earned credit. However, in our current pass/fail system, a D is counted as no credit. That model negatively affects the students who wish to switch their courses to pass/fail. That forces unneeded stress on some students to make a difficult decision between taking the D (earning them credit but lowering their GPA) or receiving an NC (not earning them credit or lowering their GPA, but impacting their graduation requirements and financial aid status). We are in unprecedented times, a students focus should be on surviving the uncertainty of COVID-19; our academics need and should take a backseat in a global pandemic. Many students are already being forced to make difficult decisions, life vs. death, every single day, and our grade model should not be one of those choices. If a(n) (undergraduate or graduate) student was placed on academic warning or academic probation before March 8th (2020) their academic standing will not be lowered after the Spring Semester, but it can be raised. Thus, they will be allowed another full-term semester to achieve appropriate academic standing, if not reached after this Spring Semester.

#3If a course cannot be taught online, without a significant drop off between in-class learning and distance learning, the student will receive an automatic “Pass.” Students did not ask nor choose to have their courses switched to online instruction. COVID-19 has forced students into a mode of learning that isn’t conducive to many (students) and a decent number of courses. For students who are taking courses where the education outcomes have significantly dropped off need to receive adequate and appropriate accommodations. They are paying tuition (without a deduction) for a class that they are getting little knowledge and hands-on experience. Their class instruction and assignments should continue until the end of the semester. However, completing their coursework should be optional. (They should consider if the course is a prerequisite, graduation requirements, academic goals, and future ambitions.) Each student will then receive an automatic “Pass” (those courses will switch to the pass/fail model) no matter if they choose to continue their coursework.

#4Attendance and Participation will not factor into grading. There are countless reasons why students cannot access Zoom meetings and class instruction. Some of these reasons are a lack of available technology, internet services, extra responsibilities, tumultuous home life, exacerbation of mental illness, work (essential employee), disease, sensory overload, and many other factors. Therefore, students should not be penalized for their lack of attendance or participation. For many courses, attendance and participation factors into the overall grade, but you cannot assess a student’s performance and commitment to a class based on Zoom meetings (aforementioned reasons) nor the first six or seven weeks of in-class learning. There are students who were experiencing difficulties in the first half of the Spring Semester, and the sudden switch in the mode of learning doesn’t allow them the appropriate time and resources to make up for their early absences or lack of participation. Thus, attendance or participation should not factor into a student’s grade, only assignments, tests, and coursework.

#5Students will be allowed to submit ALL “late” course work (without penalty to their grade) until May 15th. Students should not be penalized for submitting an assignment late; they need to be taking the necessary time to focus on their well-being and surviving this pandemic, not on submitting an assignment on time. Students need extreme flexibility in this tumultuous semester, not hard-pressed deadlines. Also, taking a full course load of online classes comes with added stress, anxiety, and work that makes distance learning more difficult than in-class instruction. To place additional harm on a student's mental and emotional well-being in this unprecedented juncture is hugely inappropriate.

#6Classes will end on May 8th, but the deadline for students to submit course work will be extended until 11:59 pm on May 15th. Students missed a full week of courses, after Spring Break, and we should not be penalized for the slow response of the Kutztown University Administration to COVID-19. Many students are also experiencing multiple symptoms of distress and should be concentrating on their overall well-being, not on the completion and submission of an assignment on-time, and finals week brings additional stress and anxiety that would be disastrous for many students (right now). The added week would also make up for the one week of learning that students were not reimbursed and allows students a week after finals to make up any incomplete assignments, which would give students time to prioritize their health and wellness in this global pandemic.

#7If the Kutztown University Administration does not agree to the previous demand, then they need to reimburse the tuition of all students for the week of March 16th - March 20th. In the March 23rd email about refunds, we were explicitly told that we would not receive a tuition refund. “Tuition – All instruction has been moved online but will continue through the 2020 spring semester. Full tuition costs are remaining in place based on 50% face-to-face and 50% online. The change in instruction does not meet the distance education requirement of 80% online or more.” However, what the Kutztown University Administration neglected to factor in was the week of classes, after Spring Break, which class instruction was suspended (March 16th – March 20th). Kutztown University students paid for 15 weeks of tuition (class instruction and learning), which excludes Spring Break, not 14 weeks. Therefore, we need to be refunded tuition for the week of classes that were suspended, or the KU Administration must agree to the previous demand; it would benefit Kutztown University’s budget and the overall well-being of students if Demand #6 was agreed upon.

#8Students who receive an F (letter grade system) or a NC (pass/fail system) will automatically receive an incomplete and allowed a fair opportunity to “Pass” the course in the Summer or Fall. We are in a global pandemic, students who fail a course (this semester) need to be met with the utmost compassion. These students were most likely dealing with extreme stress that inhibited their studies, severe mental health issues, technological hindrances, complications from illness, and many other unfortunate factors. To blame their failing grade on their lack of “grit” is callous and inappropriate. Kutztown University should not have a blatant disregard for the circumstances of its students, especially during this pandemic, but an understanding that many students are suffering (in silence) during the unprecedented nature of COVID-19. If a student fails a course, they need to be allowed an opportunity to complete their unfinished assignments or submit extra credit, so that they can “Pass” the course. They will not be able to receive a letter grade, only a “Pass” in the pass/fail system. If a(n) (undergraduate or graduate) student was placed on academic warning or academic probation before March 8th (2020) their academic standing will not be lowered after the Spring Semester, but it can be raised. Thus, they will be allowed another full-term semester to achieve appropriate academic standing, if not reached after this Spring Semester.

#9The incomplete deadline for Fall 2019 and Winter 2020 courses will be extended until 11:59 pm on May 15th. The deadline was already pushed back until May 1st/May 8th. Still, students who took an incomplete for the Fall of 2019 or Winter of 2020 were already experiencing high distress, before this pandemic, which allowed for their accommodation. However, COVID-19 has compounded the stress and anxiety of students who were already suffering; thus, this pandemic has disproportionately affected them. These students should be focusing on their health and well-being, and it is impossible for that prioritization when they are taking a full course load of online classes and making up incompletes from prior semesters; online courses also come with additional work and more difficulties.

#10Grades will be released on Tuesday, May 26th. Grades cannot be released on Tuesday, May 12th if students can submit course work until May 15th. Also, it is unjust and unfair to force professors who are also experiencing the effects of this global pandemic to grade all assignments and submit student grades to the University in less than four days, May 19th. (Demand #6 approval would have grades released on Tuesday, May 19th.) Professors should be given an extra seven days, so that they can focus on their health and well-being, especially with most being older (more vulnerable to COVID-19) and the primary caregiver for their families. Students will still have one week to decide on their grading policy (June 2nd, 4:30 pm), and final changes to their grade and financial aid packages will be made promptly afterward.

“The voices of students will be ignored no longer; we will scream our truths from the mountaintops, and our souls will be felt in the heavens above.” *KU Resist is all students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, community members, and literally anyone who wants better from Kutztown University.