McGill Senate approves a retroactive S/U option for the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 semesters

The McGill Senate convened for a special meeting on Dec. 15 to vote on a motion regarding implementing the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) option for the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 semesters. The Senate voted in favour of the motion after hearing from student and faculty senators, nearly all of whom supported it.

The approval of this motion allows students to take a total of six credits over the two semesters that will be graded using the S/U option and will not count towards the total number of S/U credits that a student is allowed to take over the course of their program. Furthermore, the additional S/U credits may be applied to elective, complementary, or required courses after students receive their grades. The deadline for students to declare which courses they wish to S/U for the Fall 2020 semester is Jan. 19, 2021 and May 12, 2021 for graduating students or May 21, 2021 for non-graduating students for the Winter 2021 semester.

The motion, which was brought forth by senators Brooklyn Frizzle (SSMU Vice-President University Affairs), Kristi Kouchakji (PGSS University Affairs Commissioner), Angela Campbell (Faculty of Law Senator), Fabrice Labeau (Deputy Provost Student Life and Learning), and Gillian Nycum (University Registrar & Executive Director, Enrolment Services), had previously been referred back to the Steering Committee during the Senate’s previous Dec. 2 meeting. The Dec. 15 vote in favour of the proposed S/U option came after pressure from McGill students, who argued that the remote delivery of the Fall 2020 semester had negatively impacted student’s mental health and placed some individuals at an academic disadvantage.  

Derek Nystrom, a professor in the Department of English and senator for the Faculty of Arts, explained that he supported this motion due to the unexpected challenges and steep learning curve experienced by both students and faculty in adapting to teaching and learning remotely

“There were a lot of unintended consequences to our modes of instruction that were undertaken with the best of intentions and in the best forms of good faith,” Nystrom said. “I think [that] one of the things that this addition of S/U options […] does is to acknowledge that in some cases, students got overwhelmed under conditions when their professors were actually trying their best to not overwhelm.” 

McGill is now one of several Canadian universities that have adopted a retroactive S/U grading option. In early December, Concordia announced a switch to an extended pass-fail grading system for the Fall 2020 semester to support students who are struggling with mental health and academic issues exacerbated by the pandemic. 

Arts Senator Darshan Daryanani’s advocacy for the motion stemmed from a desire to level the playing field amongst students at McGill. 

“Remote learning has really had a disproportionate impact on certain groups over others, [such as] visible minorities, international students, low-income students, and persons with disabilities,” Daryanani said. “This motion will really aim to remove some barriers that will allow students to now seek an S/U option, not on the conditions that [it] would threaten their immigration requirements or their scholarships eligibility for the current academic year.” 

Soundbite 

“[I wanted to] recognize the fact that this was a product of immense collaboration and really tireless advocacy as well. I think it’s important to note that over the past few weeks we’ve been able to come from a place of […] conflict to a place of cooperation and collaboration […] that goes quite a long way to supporting students and their needs.”  – SSMU VP University Affairs Brooklyn Frizzle. 

Moment of the Meeting

Law Senator Adrienne Tessier expressed concerns about the impact this motion would have on Faculty of Law students whose current S/U options differ from that of undergraduate students. While law students are only able to S/U three credit hours during their degree, this new S/U option will be available to law students in addition to that current limit. 

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