The University of Wisconsin announced Monday the implementation of a special pass/fail grading option for spring 2021 following months of advocacy from student organizations on campus.
While UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the university would not implement another blanket pass/fail policy in January, students will now have the option to replace grades in any eligible class with two alternate options — Satisfactory Disruption (SD) and University Disruption-No Credit (UD). If selected, these options will not impact a student’s GPA.
The latest pass/fail announcement comes after Associated Students of Madison representatives and other student leaders fought for the policy since last fall. Vice Provost for Teaching & Learning John Zumbrunnen said the policy will be similar to the SD/UD policy for spring 2020.
“We will be sharing more information, including FAQs, with the campus community very soon — but we anticipate no significant changes from spring 2020,” Zumbrunnen said in a written statement to The Badger Herald.
Zumbrunnen chaired the Academic Task Force, a committee created in part due to student concerns raised about a lack of SU/UD policy amid the pandemic and confusion surrounding existing pass/fail options at UW.
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Based on the task force’s recommendation, the provost and the committee changed the description of the UD grades for both spring 2020 and 2021 to “University Disruption: No-Credit” and to add a note to transcripts indicating spring 2020, summer 2020, fall 2020 and spring 2021 were impacted by a global pandemic, Zumbrunnen said.
While students have also advocated for a retroactive pass/fail policy for the fall semester 2020, Zumbrunnen said he does not anticipate any further changes to grading for prior semesters because it is not practical to make retroactive changes to finalized grades. The implementation of SD/UD for spring 2020 reflects a recognition of the cumulative impact of the pandemic and the challenges posed by the cancellation of spring break, Zumbrunnen said.
“The task force listened carefully to student input, from student members of the task force, during a listening session facilitated by ASM, member conversations with students in their classes and through the fall undergraduate academic experience survey,” Zumbrunnen said in the written statement to The Badger Herald. “The decision to recommend SD/UD grading was neither simple nor easy.”
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Zumbrunnen said he thinks many students will benefit from the policy in spring 2021 as they did in spring 2020 because it will reduce anxiety and stress.
ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick said in a written statement to The Badger Herald he commends Zumbrunnen’s work to pass this policy but said it is long overdue.
“Credit is owed to the dozens of students who have been advocating for this issue for months and the students who fought for this on the Academics Policies Task Force,” Mitnick said. “This pandemic has demonstrated severe inequities in UW-Madison’s education system, disproportionately disadvantaging many students over others.”
Mitnick said he hopes the SD/UD grading policy will institute some semblance of equity into what has been a difficult semester for students. Mitnick said he also urges the provost to expand the policy retroactively to the fall considering it will be instituted in the spring and the fall semester represented one of the most difficult periods within the pandemic.
Zumbrunnen said he strongly encourages students to seriously question whether or not to take advantage of this grading policy.
“It can be very hard to foresee all the potential implications for how graduate schools and potential employers will interpret disruptive grades on transcripts,” Zumbrunnen said. “Students should think carefully and consult with their academic advisers before opting for SD/UD grading.”