The Committee's Concern about the Intent of the Dean's Student Welfare Note |  Times University

The Committee’s Concern about the Intent of the Dean’s Student Welfare Note | Times University

By Shannon O

In response to a recent memo from Provost Ann Cudd’s office regarding student welfare and trauma, the Senate Education Policy Committee plans to form a subcommittee to look at the language of the memo and explain how to best meet students’ needs.

Meaning and Practical Application of the Dean on August 31 note The topic “Religious Celebrations and Student Well-Being During the School Year” was discussed during the committee’s first semester meeting in the fall semester on September 19.

Sybil Streeter, professor of psychology and director of university counseling, noted that the general thrust of the 2020 dean’s memo responding to national incidents of election-related violence and racism as well as the COVID-19 pandemic to essentially “be kind” to students has now broadened significantly.

“For trauma from literally anything, we are asked to provide amenities,” she said. “We don’t punish them for truancy or for truancy.”

While acknowledging that “students should not be penalized for absence, nor should faculty meetings be scheduled” relating to the days and events of religious observance, the memorandum continues to address the “physical and mental well-being” of all (Pete) students: “…to the extent that students suffer of non-disability related illness, physical impairment, mental health concerns, distress, or trauma, including distress or trauma related to current events, should not be penalized for related absences, and adjustments should be made to continued academic progress. In turn, students should make faculty members aware of their need for such adjustments as soon as practicable.”

Sharing her concerns with colleagues in the psychology department, Streeter said, “Overall, we think (the new memo) is really very broad and vague.”

In response to the concerns of Streeter and others, the committee agreed to form a joint subcommittee comprising members of the Committee on Education Policy and the Committee on Student Assistance, Admissions, and Affairs.

“They will look at the language of the memorandum and work with the vice chancellor’s office to amend it as needed,” John Stoner, the committee’s co-chair, said after the meeting. “This effort may also include looking at whether the language in the faculty handbook needs to be updated as well.”

The note came from a “place of goodwill” in an effort to support students who lack accommodations “or who struggle with a DRS (Disability Resources and Services) that can be really useless,” Streeter said. But we are not sure exactly how to meet these challenges. We would like some clarification on: What is the penalty? What is housing? What is continuous academic progress? We would also like some guidance on how we, as faculty, can manage this.”

Catherine Wolf, a professor in the Department of Economics, has made predictions about how and when students should use the privileges of “dropping” grades to justify quizzes, missed exams, or low scores. The dean’s office in the Wolf department approached her, as Director of Undergraduate Studies, to ask faculty not to require a student to use a “drop” due to COVID-related absences.

“A lot of us do a top-10 fall test or something,” she explained. And this was a milder version of that, in which a student should not be required to use one of the two available drops if they said they could not come to class for some reason.

“We are really trying to relieve the heavy pressure our students are putting on themselves,” she added, explaining that a missed exam shouldn’t spoil a student’s semester. “Practically speaking, if you have weekly assignments or weekly exams, you can not do makeup for 600 people…So this is the policy that seems to have been put in place without really informing the college, or maybe the college’s role was to determine their absence policies and their grades own.

Wolf told the University Times she felt the dean’s office memo was “unclear”. “I think the way we handle absenteeism is a rating and attendance policy that should be the prerogative of the college, not a policy set by the dean’s office,” she said.

Joe McCarthy, vice dean of undergraduate studies, noted how recent events, such as the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico, can affect a particular student’s stress level. While he said he “can see where the dean’s office and (Wolf’s) point is coming from…this is an issue that I think a number of faculty members should agree to disagree with.”

He said that if a student approaches him either before or after missing a test to show they have COVID, he will be tempted to drop the (low) score rather than schedule an impractical make-up test.

“But I don’t want to force the student to use that kind of (free) projection because that, again, removes the pedagogical reason that[Wolf]was referring to, where we’re trying to reduce the pressure on the students,” he said. “So if they have a reason beyond just getting the chance to stumble, now that’s an unfair policy, where we give most, but not all, students the advantage of being able to stumble.”

Because he interprets the dean’s memo so that it does not go further than saying that “students should not be penalized for (traumatic) absences,” McCarthy said he “is sure the office of the dean would be happy to help us the Senate craft this matter. It’s a little clearer and achieves the goals we’re trying to align here. “.

Shannon Wells is a staff writer for the University Times. reach it in shannonw@pitt.edu.

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