One day after announcing it would offer pass/fail grading for the spring semester, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of the Provost dissolved the student-led Academic Policies Task Force that recommended those policies.
Aside from the policy on disruptive grading, the task force also played a role in pushing back the drop deadline for classes.
According to task force member Kati Kons, the group was created to assist the Provost in enacting academic-related pandemic relief for students.
“Throughout the fall semester, students were advocating for the pass-fail policy to accommodate for the pandemic,” Kons said. “After they told us that we weren't going to get the policy passed in the fall, I think as a concession, they put together this task force to talk about the spring.”
On Wednesday morning, Kons tweeted that she woke up to an email from the Provost that thanked the task force for their service, and said the committee’s work had come to an end.
“Thank you very much for your careful study of the issues involved,” the email read. “With the formal work of the task force now complete and on behalf of the university, thank you for your service.”
While the email said the committee would dissolve now due to an end of their formal work, Kons believes that the committee was dissolved because the Provost wanted to send a message that he would not allow a change to a retroactive grading policy for the fall 2020 semester.
In the email, the Provost noted that “it is neither advisable nor practical to make retroactive changes to grading for previous terms.”
“The fact that we implemented [SD/UD grading] in the spring and not in the fall is, I think, unfair to students,” Kons said. “What this university has been promoting throughout the entire pandemic is a failure to understand the needs of students. I think it highlights a disconnect between students and the university.”
She noted that while the task force was glad to implement policies to alleviate hardships for students, they were hoping to tackle more systemic issues with their work.
“I think we might be helping, but it doesn't get at the root issue. Some professors are unforgiving in academics and don't make exceptions for extraordinary and extenuating circumstances,” Kons said.
She said the group wanted to address issues like hardships of losing loved ones and declining mental health due to isolation, or the inaccessibility of online learning for people with disabilities or learning difficulties.
“A lot of the problems that we saw and that we wanted to address included the circumstances that we can't know about,” she said. “Access to education is also a financial question which has an intersectionality in inequity and racial injustice.”
The Provost did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kons said that the elimination of the task force can be seen as a breakdown of trust between the university and students.
“[While] we were told that our charge was specifically to look at academic policies for the spring and potentially forward, we did talk a lot at the beginning about what values we wanted to support when making these policies,” she said. “That was to show empathy to students and to try to bridge the trust between the university and students, which I think has been over and over again tested and broke down a lot.”
Kons said she was proud of the work the task force was able to get done, but it felt like they should have been able to do more.
“I think we all did what we could, and now we just don't have the opportunity to do any more,” she said.