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Brown temporarily changes academic policies in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Students given opportunity to change grading options, sophomore concentration deadline postponed

The University updated several academic policies following the move to remote learning and teaching in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and recent student and faculty concerns.

Policy changes include an opportunity for individual students to modify their grading options, as well as the postponement of both the sophomore concentration declaration deadline and the course pre-registration period until the fall. Dissertation and thesis defenses will be done remotely.

The temporary policies will only remain in effect for the remainder of the semester, according to an email announcing the changes from Dean of the Graduate School Andrew G. Campbell and Dean of the College Rashid Zia ’01.

“These policies are intended to honor both the spirit and letter of Brown’s distinctive approach to higher education,” Campbell and Zia wrote. They noted their guiding principles of supporting instructors in adjusting their course plans, reaffirming the University’s commitment to full inclusion of all students, who have varied technological access, and encouraging “patience and generosity during this unprecedented moment.” 

Student and instructor reconsideration of grading options

For all non-mandatory Satisfactory/No Credit classes, students will be able to modify their grade options from April 13 to April 17. Graduate students in professional programs may seek consultation about grade options and S/NC possibilities in light of their accreditation requirements, according to the University’s announcement of the temporary academic policies.

In determining the most appropriate policies for grade option changes, "we didn't think that a uniform solution was going to work for the broad range of circumstances and experiences of students," Zia told The Herald. Because students expressed different opinions on what the updated policy should look like, “the belief was that we might return to our principles at Brown, which is about an individualized education.”

"Brown has a particular approach informed by student advocacy,” he added. “We do try to minimize consideration of grades and maximize consideration of student learning, and this was the proposal that we thought … would allow that to happen.”

In exceptional cases where it may be infeasible to assign letter grades, instructors may petition to make their course mandatory S/NC to a joint subcommittee of the College Curriculum Council and Graduate Council before April 3. Students may request a performance report for those S/NC classes. Those who had previously chosen to take the course for a letter grade will receive a transcript notation indicating their original intent. 

Concentration declaration and fall 2020 pre-registration deadline

For rising juniors, the deadline to declare a concentration has been postponed to 5 p.m. June 1. The extension "provides additional time for students to meet with their concentration advisors remotely," according to the policies. The deadline for concentration approval has been moved accordingly to 5 p.m. June 9.  

The course pre-registration period for fall 2020 has been postponed to June 15 through June 20, enabling students to make more informed decisions based on current courses, according to the policies.

Remote instruction

The temporary policies also say that students will have access to recorded classes at any time in order to prioritize asynchronous instruction. Synchronous course meetings are to be held within the original scheduled hours, but the policies note that participation will largely no longer act as a fair standard of assessment. Instructors are expected to stay in close contact with students and provide remote office hours and other means of communications to meet student needs.  

Instructors are also expected to provide students with updated syllabi by April 3, and no assignments should be collected between March 15 and March 30, according to a March 14 message from Provost Richard Locke P'18.

Instructors may also petition for the early completion of their course in special cases, such as for courses that cannot be moved online.

Students who "may not be able to complete a course within the bounds of the semester" will receive a grade of Incomplete, and faculty should provide resources to help those students complete the course. 

Undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants are expected to work remotely to help instructors support student learning.

Degree clearance, dissertation deadline, program adjustment

The University intends to award graduating students with their degrees in a virtual ceremony on Memorial Day Weekend. Departments must submit their undergraduate degree clearance forms, or “blue forms,” before March 27. Commencement and Reunion Weekend were postponed until the fall, The Herald previously reported.

The deadline for departments to submit the names of students receiving honors and the deadline for graduate thesis and dissertation submissions remains May 1. 

Graduate thesis and dissertation defenses will be conducted via Zoom or other teleconferencing channels. With the approval of dissertation committee members, public defense requirements may be waived.

Graduate programs are also encouraged to consider adjustments to the structure, order and timing of program requirements, with changes to be made at the program level. 

Final Exams

The last day of classes will be May 5. The final examination period begins May 6 and ends on May 15. Instructors are encouraged to offer asynchronous take-home or open-book exams, final papers, projects or other methods of assessment. Final grades must still be submitted within 48 hours of the scheduled exam and before 5 p.m. May 16.


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