SGA Makes A Last Ditch Effort to Bring Pass/Fail Option

University of Baltimore’s Student Government Association has made a last ditch effort to reverse the university back to an alternative grading model. 

Although administration, faculty, and students have deliberated on the issue since earlier this year, little progress has been made as the university has gone without the option since the summer semester.

In early November, the Student Government Association unanimously passed a resolution titled “Resolution 11, Resolution Providing Students with Academic Relief” asking for an extension of the option. At the November 25 SGA meeting, Treasurer Camilla Canner said, “The idea was that during this COVID-19 pandemic, there are a lot of extenuating circumstances that would perhaps make it difficult for a student to finish a class with a grade that would allow them to pass. The Pass/Fail grade gives an option to continue working on their degree.” This was a sentiment shared by all of the SGA, as they felt this was the best way to advocate for students.

Nevertheless, this resolution seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Many faculty members believe that this option not only hampers the ability to track student progress and accurately report information for financial aid requirements but is a blow to the reputation of the institution. 

“Data shows that a pass/fail option is unnecessary,” says interim provost Catherine Anderson. An internal report from the registrar shows similar distributions between spring 2019 and spring 2020 grades with the latter actually being higher and showing fewer withdrawals from courses. 

“Only 5 percent of undergraduate and graduate students used the no credit/credit option and distribution shows that most of those grades were Cs and Ds,” said Anderson. “About the same percent of grades were Fs in the no credit column. In other words, the alternative grading did not greatly boost academic performance.”

She adds, “Ultimately, doing what faculty felt was in the best interests of students, we did not support a Pass/Fail option for students this semester nor did any other USM schools for this fall.” 

Students like senior Zachary Romer believe that a pass/fail option is essential to his ability to graduate without having to incur the cost of a three credit semester in the spring.  To assuage his worst fears, he took 18 credits but did not anticipate the myriad of pandemic-related consequences for this decision.

“When [professors] are not giving full attention to students or even making an effort to try to help students meet their learning objectives,” said Romer. “Ultimately, there is a disengagement from students because they see the disengagement from their professors.” 

“Professors,” he says, “have not abided by their office hours,” citing personal challenges without extending the same leniency to students while also occasionally dropping “ridiculous” grading curves to push them through. 

For the past few months, SGA members have been in negotiations with members of the Faculty Senate and administration in hopes of garnering support for the legislation. Beginning in the summer, attempts to pressure the Faculty Senate to make a recommendation fell flat. Michael Kiel, Faculty Senate president, explained that the Board of Regents’ report addressing UB’s finances released earlier this year has occupied the minds of faculty members.

“I could have probably brought it up sooner and maybe I should have,” said Kiel. “Not a single faculty senator was in favor of discussing it. It gave even more reason to avoid it among other more dominating topics.” 

On December 3rd, SGA president Daniel Khoshkepazi and SGA vice president Kevin McHugh were invited to a Faculty Senate meeting in hopes of being able to speak. Kiel, however, argues that they were under the wrong impression and rather wanted them to simply have a presence in the room. 

The Faculty Senate had passed a resolution encouraging members to “be imaginative, compassionate, and kind in response to student crises,” in hopes that this would ease student minds. 

With time running out and the pass/fail option seeming less likely, some SGA members are seeking better ways to help students. On Wednesday, “Resolution 23, Asking the University of Baltimore to extend the academic probation period due to the COVID-19 pandemic as an academic relief accommodation,” passed unanimously, signaling SGA’s willingness to continue to compromise in the near future while alleviating some of the fears of risk and reputation damage that come with alternative grading. 

The Fall 2020 semester ends on December 18.

Graham Antreasian is a staff writer for The Sting. 

Former Mayor Schmoke begins first school year as UB President

By Andrew R. Koch

Reviewing why UB became four-year institution

Kurt Schmoke has started his first year as President of the University of Baltimore. However, this isn’t the first time he’s been in the spotlight.

President Kurt Schmoke. Photo Courtesy of University Relations
President Kurt Schmoke. Photo Courtesy of University Relations

Schmoke became president of the university on July 7, taking over for Robert Bogomolny, who announced his retirement last Spring. Schmoke served three terms as Mayor of Baltimore from 1987 to 1999. Prior to that, he was Baltimore City State’s Attorney for five years. Growing up, Schmoke was recognized for his accomplishments on the gridiron as a star quarterback at Baltimore City College High School. Prior to coming to UB, Schmoke was Dean of the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C.

“There were a couple of graduates of the University of Baltimore who first raised the possibility of my coming here with me. I hadn’t really thought about it,” Schmoke said when asked why he chose to apply or the UB President opening after serving as the Dean of the Law School at Howard from 2003 to 2012, and then as general counsel and even interim Provost. “When I found out that President Bogomolny was retiring, and these graduates said something to me about it, I just started reading more about the University of Baltimore, and was very impressed with the progress and the energy of this place over the last few years […] I thought my experiences as an elected official plus the higher education experience could be of great benefit to a public university.”

Schmoke said that’s when he decided to apply, and he feels fortunate to have been selected as the eighth president of UB. Schmoke says while he did learn a lot about Baltimore during his time as Mayor and State’s Attorney, he’s had to relearn the city because of how much it’s changed from when he was Mayor to now.

“That’s been one of the exciting things about coming to this position,” Schmoke said. “The city has made a lot of progress in a number of different areas. The University has made tremendous progress, and I had to learn about those things and how we can fit in the agenda of the city as an anchor institution.”

During a June 25 ceremony at Baltimore City Hall, UB joined seven other universities, including Loyola, Johns Hopkins, Morgan State, Coppin State, and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), along with the Bon Secours Health System, when it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the city to provide jobs, investments in the community, and solutions to issues facing Baltimore.

The effort is towards a goal set by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to get 10,000 more families to move into the city. President Schmoke said UB will likely work together with the other universities on development projects. He says the administration would also like to work with the other institutions to develop synergies in programs such as communications design and digital entertainment, as well as other programs that are strengths for UB, such as business and pre-law.

“We really want to emphasize that we’re a career-oriented university,” Schmoke said, citing UB’s slogan, “Knowledge That Works.” “Everyday, I’m learning about another high quality that’s offered at the University of Baltimore, and I think it’s up to us now to try to let the community know a little bit more about some of these programs.”

President Schmoke says as one of Baltimore’s anchor institutions, UB will be working to not only make a positive economic development impact on the city, but also to make a positive impact on educating “Baltimore’s children.” However, changes are being discussed that could affect who can get what Schmoke called “a high-quality education at an affordable price.”

The University of Baltimore was established in 1925 as an institution for transfer and graduate students. In 2007, the University became a four-year institution when it enrolled its first group of underclassmen. However, the majority of students who enroll at UB are transfers and graduates. According to an article that appeared in the Sept. 5 edition of The Baltimore Sun, about 200 freshmen enroll at UB each fall, but that number has leveled off. In an interview that day with The Sun, Schmoke discussed how flat public funding the University is receiving is creating a need to work more efficiently. Schmoke says he was looking to start a conversation in the UB community, but wasn’t recommending changing the university back to what it used to be.

“I just wanted to understand better why the change was made, and whether the reasons that supported the change … still exist here in 2014,” Schmoke said, adding that the conversation with the University so far has been “very robust.”

“And what seems to be emerging is support for a more targeted, focused freshman admissions policy that align our admissions of freshmen with the strong upper-division programs that we offer, for example in business and accounting and forensic science.” He said he wanted to start a discussion about whether or not the University should focus more on its graduate and transfer students, or continue promoting freshmen admissions.

“What has come back from the community is that we shouldn’t consider this as an ‘either-or’ proposition,” Schmoke said. “Maybe we ought to consider it as making some adjustments to what we’re doing.”

Schmoke says there’s been support for both positions, and the administration is working on building a consensus, and he’s been talking with both faculty and students. At the most recent Student Senate meeting, he says the consensus he got from them was to keep freshmen admissions, but to align them with some of the upper-division professional and career-oriented programs so students can better distinguish what the University has to offer compared to other schools in the region, such as the University of Maryland Schmoke says a final decision about changing the type of institution UB is won’t be made until sometime in early October.