U. of I. makes academic changes to give students more flexibility, lower stress during semester upended by coronavirus
But some students, like 20-year-old Cristal Caballaro, say the university still needs to do more to help vulnerable students make the transition to remote and off-campus instruction.
With coronavirus throwing students and faculty a curveball as they continue the spring semester, officials at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have announced a series of changes to their academic policies they hope will give students more flexibility during a stressful time.
The university acknowledged in a letter to students this week that the move to remote learning, as well as Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s statewide order to shelter-in-place, was placing “considerable stress on faculty, students and staff.” About 50,000 students attend the downstate flagship campus.
“We know this whole thing has been disruptive and unsettling for students,” university spokeswoman Robin Kaler said Wednesday. “We just want [students] to be able to focus on their studies.”
The biggest changes for the university involve offering more classes for credit/no-credit, instead of students receiving a grade after completing a course.
Instructors can now choose if their course should be offered credit/no-credit — an acknowledgement by officials that some courses may prove more difficult to evaluate students through standard letter grading. Students can also decide whether they would prefer to be graded as usual, or to take a course credit/no-credit.
They university also acknowledged that some classes will be tough to grade fairly remotely. The school has added a “pass/no pass option ... in recognition of the fact that some courses that cannot be assessed and graded in a fair way without face-to-face interaction (e.g., performance courses),” the letter said.
The new policies will not apply to certain professional programs, including the College of Law and the College of Medicine, the university said.
“We’re trying to help everyone from the faculty to the students,” Kaler said, “to make the decision that’s right for them.”
The university also announced it was delaying the date that students can choose whether to drop a course by as much as a month, as well as moving back dates for registering for summer and fall classes.
“We are extending these deadlines to give you more time to make informed choices to try to lessen your stress,” Andreas Cangellaris, vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, wrote in a letter to students about the changes.
Student calls for cancellation of spring semester
Not all students feel the measures go far enough, however.
Cristal Caballero, a junior at U. of I. who is currently living at home in Gage Park, called on university officials to cancel the spring semester and give all students a grade of “A” in their courses.
In an open letter to the university that garnered more than 50 student signatures, as well as support from wide-ranging campus, national and international student groups, Caballero also asked for the school to refund most of the students’ fees and tuition for the semester.
Caballero, 20, said she has concerns about the quality of remote instruction and said some of the fees the university charges for student services no long apply because the campus is closed.
Caballero was invited to speak with university officials at a meeting held virtually earlier this week to discuss the letter, but Kaler said the latest modifications are not a direct result of Caballero’s demands and “have been in the process for weeks.”
Caballero told the Sun-Times she “didn’t actually expect to get the first two things to happen,” but said she felt the letter would start a conversation about the unique needs of first-generation and low-income students who have been cut off from university resources.
Caballero said the changes announced by the university show progress in moving the school to consider how the unprecedented changes to the university are being equitably dealt with, but said she will continue to fight for the university to do more for students during these trying times.