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UCS works to support students through COVID-19, discusses Universal Pass

Projects address academic, financial impacts of pandemic, Council to continue advocating for Universal Pass

At its first general body meeting since the University moved to remote instruction, the Undergraduate Council of Students virtually discussed ways to best support students in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. UCS also considered potential responses to the University’s temporary grading policy.

Since the University evacuated most of campus, UCS has worked with the Office of Financial Aid to clarify the disbursal process of the $150 transportation stipend for students receiving financial aid, said UCS President William Zhou ’20. The Council has also held conversations with the Office of Financial Aid about reducing or eliminating the summer earnings expectation for students who are unable to work over the summer, Zhou added.

Individual Council committees are working on projects to institute a mandatory reading period during which instructors would be prohibited from conducting class the week before the start of exams. They are also advocating for all classes to be recorded to ensure equity in asynchronous learning for students in different time zones and writing letters to the Association of American Colleges and Universities about accepting Satisfactory/No Credit grades this semester, Zhou said.

Additionally, UCS aims to hold virtual events to connect with the student body, including regular Zoom office hours and weekly general body meetings throughout the remainder of the semester. The Elections Board will also announce the results of the UCS and Undergraduate Finance Board elections via a Zoom meeting open to the undergraduate student body Monday, April 6.

The Council also discussed the Universal Pass at Brown campaign, which advocates for the implementation of a grading system in which all students would receive a grade of “Pass” or “Pass with Distinction” in their courses this semester, according to the campaign’s Facebook page. In a March 30 email to the undergraduate student body, Dean of the College Rashid Zia ’01 acknowledged some students’ desire for Universal Pass, but maintained the decision against both Universal Pass and a mandatory S/NC system. Instead the University will continue its current temporary grading policy that extends the deadline to allow students to change their grading options from April 13 to April 17. The Council’s Executive Board previously endorsed Universal Pass in a March 27 email to the undergraduate student body. 

Since University instruction moved online, “there has been an uptick in complaints about classes,” said Chair of Student Wellness Shivani Nishar ’20. 

Students seem to express their frustrations in “very emotionally phrased questions, asking for resources,” said Co-Appointments Chair Sam Caplan ’22. “We can formalize that channel to direct students toward resources that they’re asking for.”

Nishar, who is a main organizer of the Universal Pass at Brown campaign, also emphasized the need to garner faculty support in order to modify the current grading system. 

General body members also discussed alternative grading systems set by other institutions that have changed their policies in light of the pandemic. As an alternative to the University’s current policy of extending the S/NC deadline to April 17, First Year Representative Zane Ruzicka ’23 referenced Virginia Commonwealth University’s temporary policy, which allows students to decide between letter grades or pass/fail in a course after they receive final grades for this semester.

Ultimately, Council members resolved to continue discussing modifications to the grading system with administrators and relaying student concerns to them.

UCS also passed two proposals at the meeting. The first proposed that leftover raised funds from student groups that have been defunct or inactive for two years be transferred to the Student Events Fund. The second proposal enables the South Asian Students Association to modify its internal constitution without UCS approval. Both passed when put to a simple majority vote.


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