The proposal to amend the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) grading scheme has gained traction following its endorsement by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council on Nov. 1. Spearheaded by Vice-President (VP) University Affairs (UA) Jacob Shapiro, the S/U project advocates providing students with the choice to receive a letter grade for their S/U courses. Under this amendment, students could change their ‘S’ or ‘U’ grade to the letter grade they would have received with the normal grading scheme after seeing their results. Shapiro is currently conferring with the McGill administration about amendment details and technological logistics.
The S/U option currently allows students to receive a final grade of ‘S’ or ‘U’—which stand for ‘Satisfactory’ and ‘Unsatisfactory’—rather than a letter grade for a selected course. As it stands, students cannot switch between the S/U and letter grading scheme after the Add/Drop deadline. Eligible students can only use the S/U grading option for one elective course each semester and for an overall total of 10 per cent of their total course credits. Professors do not know which students take their course as S/U and, consequently, report letter grades for all.
Since Summer 2018, Shapiro has been campaigning to change the S/U regulations. Shapiro explained that the Enrolment and Student Affairs Committee (ESAC), which oversees student records among other academic policies, generally favours his amendment to allow for students to switch from S/U to a letter grade. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that there will be implementation challenges if the McGill administration accepts his proposal.
“[The option to uncover a letter grade] seems to help both the students who are in the overachiever gap and students who need [more leeway],” Shapiro said. “The way I envision this right now […] is that the [S/U] policy would stay exactly as it is with [the option to switch to a letter grade] within two to three weeks after final grades are distributed.”
In response to Shapiro’s campaign, the Faculty of Science Academic Committee (AC), comprised of science professors and members of the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS), discussed the possibility of amending the S/U system at its Sept. 25 meeting. Committee members agreed that the amendment would benefit students who perform extremely well in elective courses but suggested that McGill would need to enforce more stringent S/U opt-out time limits. However, despite discussion, according to SUS President Reem Mandil, there have been no formal proposals for the S/U amendment put forth at the AC.
“[SUS VP Academic] Michael [Ogundeji] and I offered some of our own input [at the Sept. 25 AC meeting] and decided to receive opinions from [SUS] General Council [on Sept. 26],” Mandil wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “Should [the S/U amendment proposal] move forward with a formal motion, myself, along with the other student members of the AC, will be sure to represent the voices heard at General Council and the overall Science and Arts & Science student bodies.”
Lawrence Ho, U3 Arts, supports the S/U amendment. He believes that the university should put education first.
“This change [in the S/U policy] would allow students to feel comfortable with stepping outside their comfort zone academically,” Ho said. “McGill should be encouraging students to take all kinds of different classes instead of having students be picky with their course selection because [they are scared of getting a low] GPA.”
Shapiro’s proposal has also faced opposition from some students, including Daniel Miller, U1 Arts. Miller voiced concerns about possible grade inflation, stating that students who are ineligible to take courses under S/U option will be at a disadvantage.
“Certain students, such as those doing a double major and a minor, […] would not be able to use the S/U option in the first place, and thus would be put at a disadvantage in comparison to their peers who could,” Miller said. “In my view, there could appear a grade on the student’s unofficial transcript indicating what [the letter grade] could have been, but this grade would have to be clearly marked as having no bearing on the GPA.”