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DSG passes resolutions calling for grading changes and fall semester days off

Duke Student Government is pushing back against Duke’s decision to revert to its usual grading policies after spring semester changes. 

Following a Tuesday guest column in The Chronicle by the DSG Academic Affairs Committee, the student government passed resolutions calling for changes to fall grading policy and the fall academic calendar amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The two resolutions were unanimously passed Tuesday evening by the Executive Board, which has the power to pass executive orders—in the form of resolutions or by-laws like those passed by the Senate—when the Senate is in recess. This includes the summer, when the Senate does not meet. The Senate can repeal the orders once it reconvenes. 

Gary Bennett, Duke's vice provost for undergraduate education, did not immediately respond Tuesday evening to a request for comment on the resolutions or administration’s position on policy changes.

The resolutions call on Duke’s academic departments, directors of undergraduate studies and faculty to make changes. A guide attached to the DSG guest column asks for students to email department chairs and DUSes in support of the student government’s proposed policies.

DSG decided to push for change at that level after meeting with administrators who expressed doubt that sweeping changes to grading policy or the calendar were possible, said Shrey Majmudar, a junior and DSG vice president of academic affairs.

The resolution on grading calls for an opt-in satisfactory/unsatisfactory policy for 100 and 200-level courses while still allowing those courses to count toward all graduation requirements, and also asks that Duke departments consider doing the same for other classes. The resolution also requests that departments end “downward curves,” which can adjust grades downward from raw scores that students receive in courses.

Under current rules, students in the Trinity Colleges of Arts and Sciences cannot count classes taken on an S/U basis toward requirements for majors, minors or certificates. Students in both Trinity and the Pratt School of Engineering can only count four S/U classes toward the 34 credits required for graduation. 

After Duke announced that all undergraduate classes would move online in the spring, the University transitioned to a default S/U grading scale for the semester. After the DSG Senate passed a resolution calling for Duke to extend the deadline to request letter grades, Duke pushed back the deadline by five days. Under the spring rules, all classes taken S/U still counted toward major, minor, certificate and graduation requirements. 

The resolution is “like a large expansion of the current policy, which has already opt-in. It’s just very inflexible in terms of what you can take and what it can count for,” said Senator Bennett David, a junior, who led planning on the grading resolution.

The second resolution notes that under Duke’s revised academic calendar, announced in May, students have no weekdays off from class between the first and last days of fall semester classes. That resolution calls on faculty to build in at least one to two off-days during the semester, and refrain from assigning exams, papers or other major assignments due Nov. 3 or Nov. 4 in recognition of Election Day. 

“We also reached out to some student groups on campus to gather some feedback about what they thought about the calendar and using those pieces we framed our proposal and our resolution to best advocate for the needs of the student body,” said Senator Chloe Schaefgen, a sophomore, who led planning on the calendar resolution.

The resolution, which was planned with help from other student groups, also recommends that that this “Black Out Period” for major assignments around Election Day be respected in future years as well. 

“That's the reason we're asking for these blackout dates, not only for mental health but also for civic engagement,” Majmudar said.

Schaefgen also said that the student and faculty response to the resolution will inform DSG’s actions going forward—particularly with respect to the spring semester, which will be missing a spring break under Duke’s revised academic calendar.

Both resolutions passed Tuesday were introduced by Senators Devan Desai and Cynthia Dong, both sophomores, and Majmudar.

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