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. 

MICA Mondays: Dylan Jones

Dylan Jones is a senior at MICA studying painting. His art, inspired by his love for sports, draws on experiences from himself and other athletes to include perseverance, injury, defeat, and triumph.

MICA Mondays is a project of the UB Post (University of Baltimore) showcasing the talent and work of students and alumni of the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) released every Monday during the fall and spring semesters.


Produced by: Benjamin Kahn and Jeff Dominguez

Host: Benjamin Kahn

Edited by: Jeff Dominguez

We all stayed up

UB’s reaction to the unexpected election results

By Zachary Nelson

“I stayed up till 3:30.” That was the case for a lot of students at UB the morning after the election. I have noticed that students here have a lot of heart and a lot of passion for political matters and how the proceedings might affect themselves and those they love. I spent some of Wednesday morning asking people on campus what they thought and felt about the election results. So, instead of telling you my opinion, I will give you their thoughts.

At UB, the conversation began with non-verbals. One professor observed, “There was definitely kind of a dark vibe – there was definitely a lot of tension.” One of my classmates recalled, “Five o clock in the morning and I checked my phone and I felt sick to my stomach.” It seemed that a cloud of despair had descended on Mount Royal and Charles.

Then people started speaking up. Their first reaction was one of surprise. Phrases like, “It was mind boggling,” “I am just surprised in the outcome,” and “I was just completely shell shocked” were commonly used. One student ruminated, “I am surprised on how misrepresented the youth are… I think that the way things are going is controlled a lot by the way they view the world and since they were under represented – I feel like we had a loss.” One professor explained, “My first thought was surprise but as I reflected on it I realized that I probably shouldn’t have been that surprised and then I kind of reflected a little bit on how we kind of isolate ourselves and surround ourselves with similar belief systems. I don’t personally know anyone who is going to vote for Trump, therefore is discounted the power of what he [President- Elect Trump] was bringing to people.”

The conversation turned to concerns for the future. A student explained, “At first I was worried, and now I’m a little afraid. I always considered myself a proud American… and now I am kind of embarrassed… He is not predictable… I don’t know what he’s going to do”. Things like are my friends marriages going to become invalid are people going to lose access to healthcare. Or a supreme court justice who gets it in their heart to overturn Roe v Wade.

When people say they’re scared for their life because Trump now has the nuclear codes… he has the mouth of an eight year old but I don’t think he has the mind of an eight year old. He’s not gonna go bombing people… I don’t think he’s going to cause any wars or anything like that just cause of his antics. I started with optimistic fear to like fearful optimism.

Amidst the gloomy dreariness which permeated Mount Vernon, there were a few sparks of hope. One student admitted, “This is really surprising… but since it’s happened already, I am eager to see what is going to happen next.” Another student said, “Maybe he can bring something different.” Another student says that we must, “Have more comfort in knowing that God is the person that makes the final decision.”

Many students stayed up until 3:30. Most students participated in the passionate discussions which inevitably sprung up in classrooms across campus. All students must come to grips with the election results and decide how they will respond. We will see what the future holds.

 

Is it their fault?

Students are often blamed for their disinterest in academic pursuits

By Zachary Nelson

The professor must first convince the student that the subject at hand is useful in real life. Only then will the student agree to care about anything the professor says.

It is a complaint of teachers and parents alike that students are not engaged in coursework. Professors and parents decry this apparent disinterest as laziness or another flaw of character (Kohn). They claim that video games and socializing, “is all they ever do.” To confirm this, I conducted a survey of UB students this past month (n=21). Student engagement in various activities was measured on a 1-7 scale (7 meaning high engagement). Electronic entertainment scored a 4.46 while spending time with friends scored a 5.95. Meanwhile, academic pursuits (class lectures and homework assignments) scored only a 4.1. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1 shows how engaged students are in the corresponding activities. A score of 7 indicates “very engaged.”
Figure 1 shows how engaged students are in the corresponding activities. A score of 7 indicates “very engaged.”

To understand the reasons behind this undesirable deficit, we will consider the average day of a gamer who attends UB. First, this student listens for an hour and a half to a lecturer talk about a subject which does not seem to have an application the real world. Then, during their study time, the student attempts to memorize this seemingly meaningless information and so he can fill in the correct little bubbles with a led pencil at the end of the month.

The student then goes home and unwinds by playing a video game where he is participating in a breathtaking rescue scene. As the student is playing, he reacts emotionally as if he was actually doing the act himself – which would certainly be an exhilarating and engaging experience (McGonigal).  

Wouldn’t it be more natural for our brain to engage in the video game instead of the class lecture? Wouldn’t it be natural for our brain to tune out a lecture that is perceived as irrelevant to normal functioning? Wouldn’t it be natural for the student to pursue the next most productive alternative? (i.e. texting or watching sports highlights in class).

Perhaps students are harshly critiqued by parents and teachers unnecessarily. Talking down to someone for following a natural mental process may be quite misinformed and potentially hazardous to the portion of the student’s brain that dares to think beyond the PowerPoints and scantrons.

Please understand, I am not suggesting that the content UB lectures are irrelevant or meaningless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much rigorous work has been put into building the theories that are taught in the textbooks. However, I am suggesting that if the contents of the lecture are perceived by the students as being disconnected from reality, students will perceive the lecture as a waste of time.

Fixing the problem does not require an overhaul of the wealth of knowledge we have accumulated over years of rigorous academic research. The solution, instead, lies in the presentation of the information. This is where further research should be done.

Image Source: Zachary Nelson

Text Citations:

Kohn, Alfie. “From Degrading to De-Grading.” High School Magazine Mar. 1999: Print.

McGonigal, Jane. “Gaming Can Make a Better World.” YouTube. TED, Web. Dec. 2016.

Student Spotlight: Ope Thomas

By Zachary Nelson

Photo 1.jpeg
Ope Thomas

Ope Thomas had a problem. When he started at UB, he encountered the same frustration time and time again. Ope lamented, “When I moved here, it was hard to find parking… and if I could find parking, I’d get a ticket.” The frustration festered until he decided to build the first prototype of his real time, street parking app. 39 prototypes later, students of UB are presented with Roadi, the Apple certified mobile application with the slogan, “Helping you park when it matters.”

Many readers have probably seen Roadi’s white booth set up in the foyers of the Student Center and the Merrick School of Business. This month marks the app’s formal introduction to the general population. The most exciting part is that UB students can start using this app on their way to school right now. I already have.

Several months ago, I approached the school with Roadi at my side. To be honest, I was somewhat skeptical that parking was going to be available at the promised location. After all, how could the app possibly know this information? As I turned the corner, I was surprised to find a convenient parking spot, just where Roadi had predicted. Just incredible – and perhaps a little spooky too.

Ope describes Roadi as a, “Mobile application that allows you to know when another user is leaving a parking space – where the best streets are to find parking at the time that you are looking.” Readers may be wondering, “How does the app know where to find the best parking?” Accuracy is insured by combining three layers of data into a cohesive whole: field research, user generated information, and large, publicly available, data files.

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Solid blue lines on the map show the best places to find street parking.

This app exists entirely because of the time and energy invested into the project by the CEO. In our interview, Ope described the 40+ hours he invests into Roadi every week while talking a full course load at UB. He is a member of the Entrepreneurship Fellows Program. This program, directed by Dr. David Lingelbach coaches a select cohort of students to create innovative, scalable business in Baltimore and beyond. Ope is thankful to be a part of this program as it provides the necessary support and encouragement which are so essential for aspiring entrepreneurs. He is also thankful to be a student at a university that hosts frequent business pitch competitions and networking opportunities.

If any of our readers are interested in being a part of the Roadi movement, Ope

 invites you to download his free app on the App Store or Google Play. In addition, Ope is always looking for people to get involved in Roadi’s next steps. Any creative ideas and feedback can be directed to his personal email: ope@goroadi.com.
Photos Courtesy of Ope Thomas.