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UCS president helps organize letters calling for flexibility in hiring, admissions, mental health counseling regulations

Letters were organized by coalition of student body presidents from entire Ivy League, 151 other universities

As part of a coalition which now includes student body presidents from over 150 universities, Undergraduate Council of Students President William Zhou ’20 helped organize two letters calling for flexibility in hiring and program admissions criteria and loosened interstate psychological counseling regulations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first letter, which was sent to state medical licensing boards across the country, emphasized the need to relax interstate regulations on counseling services in order to ensure access to mental health resources for students who live in states other than that of their universities.

The second letter was sent to the Association of American Universities, the decision-making bodies of some post-graduate opportunities, such as the Rhodes Trust, and several employers. The letter advocated for modified hiring and admissions policies that consider the many challenges that have arisen for students this semester due to the global health crisis.

Both letters were sent out Wednesday. Signatories of the second letter include student body presidents of all eight members of the Ivy League, in addition to 151 other universities representing over two million students. 

Expanding telehealth support

While many psychological counselors at universities across the nation have transitioned their services online, students and others struggling with their mental health during the pandemic may find themselves unable to access these services due to the licensing laws of some states that bar mental health practitioners from providing care across state lines, the first letter states.

Because of these interstate regulations, “students are now left to cope with severe stress without the assistance of essential mental healthcare practitioners,” the letter reads. 

The letter stressed the importance of mental health services during a time when many students may be experiencing “food/financial insecurities, loss of employment and income, rapid changes in environment, lack of academic resources, reduction of support services from their institutions, and grief over loss of friends or family members.” 

After learning that students who had left Rice University’s home state of Texas could no longer use the school’s counseling services, President of the Rice Student Association Grace Wickerson, who helped organize the letters, said that “we were very frustrated that students had to lose their main mental health care provider” during the pandemic.

“We’re hoping for policies that will allow for temporary licensing and changes that make it possible for (counselors) to practice across state lines while we are in this period of social isolation,” they added. “College students across the country are grappling with the same inequities, and we can use our collective power to advocate for them.”

At Brown, Counseling and Psychological Services remains open, offering telehealth appointments to students all over the globe, The Herald previously reported.

Admissions and postgraduate opportunities

Citing challenges posed by the broad move to virtual learning, physical displacement from college campuses, limited academic resources at home and varying pass/fail grading policies across different institutions, the signatories of the second letter stressed the significant impact of changes necessitated by the global health crisis on students’ well-being and academic performance.

“The intention of the letter was that, by grouping together as a strong collective of student body presidents and leaders, we could emphasize the needs of undergraduates during this pandemic,” Zhou said.

The letter emphasized that employers and graduate schools should not penalize students who opt to take classes pass/fail nor rescind existing job offers based on students’ grades from this spring. It also advocated for the modification of program GPA requirements, lower standardized testing criteria and the evaluation of “Spring 2020 applicants with the widespread effects of COVID-19 in mind,” according to the letter.

“For students who are at universities where they were mandated to take classes pass/fail, they shouldn’t have to be punished for a decision that they have no control over,” Zhou said. “And for students who are at universities where they have the ability to opt into (pass/fail grading), they shouldn’t feel pressured by graduate schools and employers into taking courses for a grade.”

“These uncontrollable circumstances prevent students from prioritizing and achieving their academic pursuits at the same level,” the letter states, noting that the measures it advocates for will be essential to “ensuring equity and accessibility during this uncertain time.”

The University did not implement a mandatory pass/fail policy nor the Universal Pass policy endorsed by UCS’ Executive Board and instead opted to move the deadline for students to change their grade options to May 1, The Herald previously reported

In an email to The Herald, Zhou wrote that "after discussing the letter and (its) recommendations with (President Christina Paxson P’19), I'm pleased to share that Brown will be putting appropriate statements about holistic admissions and not disadvantaging students who choose P/F on all of our websites for undergraduate, graduate and medical school admissions.”

In addition, a joint statement on “Principles on the Acceptance of Credit” was issued Thursday by presidents of the American Association of Community Colleges, Association of American Universities, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, American Council on Education and National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. The statement was supportive of many of the principles set forth in the letter sent by the coalition of student body presidents. Paxson also serves as the vice chair of the Association of American Universities. 

The Rhodes Trust, which manages the Rhodes Scholarship postgraduate program, also endorsed the recommendations put forth in the letter. “We plan to ask all Rhodes selectors to be especially flexible and understanding with respect to spring semester grades, including acceptance of pass/fail grades without any negative weight or assumptions,” officials wrote in a statement to the letter’s signatories. Additionally, the trust will “effectively liberalize our minimum GPA policy to assure no one loses eligibility for Rhodes Scholarships due to the many implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Fulbright Program, which, according to its website, “provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs (abroad),” also endorsed the principles outlined in the letter. “Looking forward, we will guide the National Selection Committee to consider the major disruptions that students encountered in Spring 2020,” officials wrote in a statement.

"Moving forward,” Zhou said, “we hope to work with associations like the AAU and CGS to ensure other universities clarify their policies as soon as possible and shape them to be most supportive of students.”


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