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Progressive Planning Update on Academic Records for Faculty and Students

November 9, 2020

Dear Educators and Students:

At the outset of this academic year I asked each of you to extend grace and empathy for the journey ahead. We knew that the ordinary structures and functions of society were being unraveled by a relentless global pandemic and that mitigating its harm would require individual and collective action. Despite our best efforts, the pandemic has continued to negatively impact our state, nation, and the world.

At MSU, we adjusted some of our academic structures and functions to protect the physical health of our teachers, learners, and scholars. Over the summer we reopened our research labs and thousands of faculty members enrolled in courses to learn how to be better online instructors. This fall we have shown that students can safely live in our residence halls and learn in our classrooms. In the spring, we plan to increase the number of in-person courses we offer and more than double the number of students we invite to live in the residence halls. But there remain challenges to our communal intellectual health and wellbeing, which require additional action.

Indeed, we had hoped we were nearing the end of the pandemic. But we aren’t. We had hoped to return to campus and have a normal spring break. But we won’t. We had hoped to create and debate new ideas. But we can’t. As a consequence, the cumulative weight of the stresses and strains of the pandemic and the disruptions to our ordinary ways of work, continue to mount. Having empathy for the experiences of those who are on this present journey and protecting the integrity of our academic reporting structures are not antithetical to each other. Indeed, I believe they are fully interoperable when academic wisdom and inclusive dialogue are part of the decisional processes.

Thus, after consultation with President Stanley, with unanimous support from our college deans, and with the concurrence of our faculty- and student-inclusive University Committee on Undergraduate Education and University Committee on Faculty Tenure, today I announce temporary changes in the way we do our academic work that are designed to enhance opportunities for persistence and success for everyone in our community. This announcement supersedes all existing policies that are in place for the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters.

For Faculty: Indicators of progress

I have appointed an ad hoc committee of university leaders to create guidelines for documenting how individual faculty and academic staff have had their teaching, research, service, and outreach and engagement altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Input from academic governance, Faculty Excellence Advocates, deans, and others has been sought and will be incorporated to improve and widen the ways that experiences of faculty and academic staff in the multiple disciplines across MSU have had their work impacted. I will encourage students to complete class evaluations for the current semester, but these evaluations will not be used for individual faculty evaluation. Rather, the student responses will be aggregated to inform the delivery of instruction online and to support potential changes in pedagogies and approaches for online modalities for the spring semester. Additional information specific to this academic year will be found on the Keep Teaching site.

For Undergraduate Students: S/NS grade reporting option

We offered a Satisfactory/Not Satisfactory (S/NS) binary grade reporting option for students in spring 2020, and we will offer this option again to students for fall 2020 and spring 2021. Students will earn numerical grades and will have the option to maintain their grades or to record a S/NS for their coursework. For undergraduate students, the threshold between S and NS will be 1.0. Grades of 0.0 will automatically be converted to NS and undergraduates will have until January 5, 2021 to view their grades and decide on a class-by-class basis if they would prefer to have a grade in any particular course recorded on their transcripts with the numerical 1.0-4.0 grade or with S. All original grades will be retained by the Registrar’s Office in case students need them reported sometime in the future.

The window for requesting that a fall 2020 class grade be recorded as S/NS will be open from Wednesday, December 23, 2020 (the day that grades are posted) until 11:59 EST on Tuesday, January 5, 2021.

The implementation of the S/NS grade reporting option with the automatic replacement of 0.0 with NS replaces the No Record-COVID19 grade reporting option.

More information about the S/NS grade reporting option, including a series of FAQs, is available on the MSU Guide to Remote Access website.

For Graduate and Graduate Professional Students: Supporting your progress

Given the unusual and unexpected circumstances that bring with them individually and collectively adverse effects in our professional and personal circumstances, the Graduate School is setting aside extra funding for emergency funding, dissertation completion fellowships, and other student support. In addition, colleges and units are strongly encouraged to identify and respond to shifting student needs by adjusting funding criteria to assure their success.

The current circumstances will result in some students requiring more time to adjust and progress. The Graduate School recognizes these challenges and will account for this in granting time-to-degree extensions. Students are encouraged to document while memories are fresh any delays they may be experiencing, as extension requests may become relevant in future years, too.

The university has also adjusted grade recording options, which are documented on the MSU Guide to Remote Access website. The S/NS grade reporting option may be used by students in consultation with their advisors and program directors to allow for continued progress to degree when specific recorded grades might conflict with the underlying sentiment of supporting students’ educational progress and aspirations that cannot readily be captured by the formal program rules that are in place. Some programs do not offer this option to students, especially when it conflicts with accreditation requirements.

Students are strongly encouraged and expected to engage with their advisors and program directors to assess implications of their choices. Colleges may use the reported numeric grades to monitor and ensure students’ successful progression through their degree programs and enforce degree progression policies, which may impact whether students receive course credit toward graduation. Similarly, all advisors and program directors are expected to recognize the particular individual and collective circumstances that we are presented with, while making allowances to assure that the long-term integrity and quality of students’ educations and professional aspirations are preserved.

For Our Entire Community of Scholars

These changes in faculty indicators of progress and student recording of grades will be effective for this fall and continue through the spring semester. I note that there are areas of scholarship that require numerical grades or other metrics of accomplishments. Please be in contact with your colleges and advisors if you have questions.

A position of grace and empathy does not mean we are lowering our expectations of ourselves, each other, or the institution. In fact, we are raising our expectations; we will be a stronger, more vibrant, and more successful community when we act in more equitable, empathetic, and inclusive ways. It is a framework that allows us to extend the wisdom we have gained to offer academic generosity, knowing that if we do this now, we will enable a generation of students, faculty, and staff to rise beyond the circumstances imposed on us by the pandemic. As I told our ASMSU General Assembly two weeks ago:

"I wonder what you will do with your future. I do not think that this pandemic is the last challenge that this generation will see in your lifetime. And I think that this generation may be called upon for many things that we can't yet see. At this time, at this place, at MSU, where your physical health and your intellectual health are the twin pillars for every decision we're making, we hope it allows you continue on a path toward whatever that future is. And we hope that the resilience you build, the ways you navigate decisions that are not your own, but you must still labor under, are things that you will carry with you into the future. I know that we're going to need you, and I really appreciate all that you are doing."

We have all learned a great deal over the last eight months about how to work and learn together online. The Provost's Office has assembled a wide range of resources and best practices for educators and students, housed on the Keep Teaching and Keep Learning sites. Please reference the content on these sites to learn more, especially as we all continue to teach and learn in this remote environment. Both students and educators need to engage fully in their respective roles and responsibilities for optimal learning to take place.

I thank each of you for continuing to do the good work necessary to meet the challenges of today and be ready for the challenges of tomorrow.

Continue to learn, teach, solve, and strive, MSU.

My best,

Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D. (she/her/hers)
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
MSU Foundation Professor