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. 

Karla Shepherd Retires; UB Decides Against Hiring New Diversity Center Director

University of Baltimore Student Center where Diversity and Culture Center is housed. Photo credit: Mary E./ Flickr

Karla Shepherd, previously director of the University of Baltimore Culture and Diversity Center for 18 years, bid farewell to the University of Baltimore this past December. 

Months later, the university has decided to not fill her position. 

“The Division of Student Success and Support Services requested to hire a new director,” said Bill Shnirel, executive director of Student Success and Support Services in an email to the UB Post. “After careful review, the UB administration has decided not to replace this position .” Schnirel however expressed that administration is looking for means to continue providing diversity training and programming and leadership for its various diversity committees. 

Schnirel, however, insists that he has not heard any talks of eliminating or downsizing the scope of the center. 

During Shepherd’s tenure, she led training on topics ranging from building safe spaces on campuses to LGBT awareness, the latter of which began in 2009 and has since been attended by over 200 people. Additionally, she played a crucial role in starting the Holidays Around the World Fair which has taken place every fall semester since 2001 providing students the chance to share holidays from their wide array of  nationalities, ethnicities, religions, and cultures. This has grown to become one of the most widely attended events on campus. 

In the past few years, she even expanded partnerships between the center and academic departments to bring speakers, such as social commentator and activist Daphne Muse, to campus and students to museums in Baltimore and nearby Washington, DC, such as the Smithsonian Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C. 

“I enjoyed watching students come on campus fresh and leave in their caps and gowns and flourish in their future”, said Shepherd. “But I do have plans for more free time.

A Philadelphia native, Shepherd has called Maryland home since the early 1980’s when she went to the University of Maryland for 12 years before coming to the University of Baltimore in 2001 where she remained until her retirement. 

Charles Rhem is a staff writer for UB Post. 

Student Spotlight

Students making the most of summer

Students are making their way back to UB after a much needed summer break. Surviving spring semester, whether undergrad or grad, is a great achievement. Nonetheless, summer is the ultimate reward. While some students spent summer working or taking a course, others had the time to travel, network and enjoy it.

Three students made the best of their summers, including sightseeing around the world. Maurice Washington, a Publications Design Major went on a friendly family vacation to Jamaica for a week. This was his first time seeing Jamaica and he wanted to soak up every moment. “We spent our time at Ocho Rios. I loved Dunn’s River Falls. I did a lot of swimming in the ocean, deep sea snorkeling, and enjoying the peacefulness and scenery,” Washington says.

With two more semesters to go before graduation, Washington wanted to remember what he calls one of his best vacations. When asked about anything interesting in Jamaica, he surprisingly joked about there being a lot of Burger Kings. “I enjoyed going to the street food vendors and taste testing different food…especially the Jerk chicken.”

Regina Pratscher, Applied Information Technology major, left Mary- land to travel to New York to meet up with one of her good friends. From there, Pratscher flew to Europe and stayed for a month. She then visited Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia.

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“I like to travel. I love to go back to Austria, where I’m from. This summer was insanely hot, so I spent most of my time by the pool and exploring their cities and countries,” Pratscher adds. Relaxation was a goal she set for the summer and now she’s ready to get back into the swing of things, taking some programming courses and a fun elective, Zombies in Pop Culture for the fall.

The majority of Sharay Bennett’s summer consisted of work and summer classes, until she got an invite to the Summer Spirit music Festival, where Grammy winning R&B and neo-soul acts Erykah Badu, Anthony Hamilton, Tony! Toni! Tone! and Floetry performed. The Publications Design major listed the festival as her biggest highlight of the summer. “I got to see my favorite artists, Estelle, The Junkyard Band, and Avery Sunshine perform,” she adds. “Great seats, good music and nice company. It was the best experience.”

Now these three students, along with other students can share their summer activities with their new classmates and professors.

Photo Credit: Regina Pratscher

The Red Line – now or never

UB students will miss out unless train project stays on track

A quick, new East-West passenger train option for UB students hangs in the balance as Governor Hogan agonizes whether to approve construction of the Red Line, originally set to start this year. The proposed line will run 14 miles from Woodlawn to Greektown with 19 stops including student hot spots like Canton, Harbor East, downtown and Fells Point.

Baltimore could see a convenient Red Line/MARC train connection if constructions is allowed to proceed. Image source: Copenhagenize.com
Baltimore could see a convenient Red Line/MARC train connection if constructions is allowed to proceed.
Image source: Copenhagenize.com

Faster than a car during rush hour, when many students are travelling to class, the Red Line will connect many Baltimore neighborhoods with the MARC train, the Metro subway and the light rail, all of which stop near UB.

On deciding the fate of the project, the newly elected governor faces a dilemma.

On the one hand, Hogan ran his election campaign emphasizing highways over public transit.

“My priority is building roads,” Hogan said, as reported in the Washington Post.

On the other hand, Hogan risks his business-friendly reputation by cancelling the project. The Red Line is heavily supported by the business community.

Baltimore Business Community wants the Red Line
In a demonstration of support, 69 of Baltimore’s most significant business lobbied Hogan, urging him to build the Red Line, by running a full page ad in the Baltimore Sun and other local papers. The Red Line, they insisted, is business-friendly.

“Many people have called the Red Line the ‘Jobs Line,’” said Maryland’s former transportation secretary James T. Smith in the Baltimore Sun on Jan. 20, 2014, “and I agree with them.”

The line, running East-West across Baltimore, will connect residents to 184,000 jobs, Don Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee in a Central Maryland Transportation Alliance newsletter, said.

Will the Red Line impact UB students?

The Red Line will stop in ten different zip codes, where as many as 1460 UB students live, which is 22 percent of the entire UB student body. (Fall 2014 data provided by UB Admission and the Office of Admissions Technology)

 

Red Line Stop Zip Code of Stop # of UB Students Living in Zip Code
CMS 21244 147
Security Square Mall
Social Security 21235 Federal Facility
I-70 Park and Ride 21229 125
Edmondson Village
Allendale 21223 42
Rosemont
West Baltimore MARC – transfer to MARC train 21216 74
Harlem park 21217 152
Poppleton 21201 332
Howard St./University Center – transfer to light rail
Charles Center – transfer to Metro subway
Inner Harbor – transfer to Circulator and MTA buses
Inner Harbor East 21202 191
Fells Point 21231 58
Canton 21224 157
Canton Crossing
Highlandtown
Bayview MARC – transfer to MARC train
Bayview Campus

Approx. travel time from Red Line transfer pt. to UB – 9 to 13 min.

 Speed and Frequency

The Red Line would be a welcome relief to some who would otherwise have to drive or take the bus.

Bus and car traffic speeds range from six to twelve miles an hour on downtown streets during rush hour, said a Maryland Department of Transportation Report.

Almost twice as fast, and sometimes faster, The Red Line will average 23 miles per hour downtown, because it will run underground, bypassing traffic lights, said transit advocacy group Red Line Now.

The Red Line will run every 10 minutes during peak times, said Keisha Trent, Community Liaison for the MTA Red Line Program Management Team.

If students time the trains, they can combine the Red Line and MARC for a convenient trip to campus by transferring at either the West Baltimore or Bayview Stations. The MARC train currently runs every 45 minutes with a super convenient stop next to UB at Penn Station.

UB students are excited about the Red Line.

“The more public transportation the better,” UB student Leticia Enos said, a Corporate Communications major, who can’t afford a car.

“I don’t have money for car payments,” UB student Rae Roberson said, who is majoring in Government and Public Policy. “Mostly I walk.”

For drivers

Even for those students who own a car, it often pays to leave it home.

Student Pamela Dennis, who is working on a post master’s certificate in psychology at UB, owns a car but thinks it’s more economical to use public transit.

Park-and-ride facilities will be an option if the Red Line is built. Plans include five park-and-ride locations. 2900 total spaces are expected, according to Maryland Department of Transportation documents.

Timeline
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) New Starts program has committed $900 million toward the Red Line, said former Transportation Secretary Smith in the Baltimore Sun. The funding is time sensitive and cannot be used for any other project. Maryland would lose these federal funds outright if the Red Line is canceled.

September is the deadline to sign the funding agreement, according to Red Line Now.

Politics
Roads apparently still a priority for Hogan; he recently proposed using up to $400 million from Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund to repair county streets. Additionally, Hogan proposed reversing legislation that included a modest inflation-adjusted gas tax increase.

According to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, rolling back this transportation funding source that would be the “death knell” for the Red Line (and other transportation projects), as reported by the Baltimore Sun.

Congressional leaders have worked hard to bring federal money for the Red Line and don’t want to see the project fall apart right before construction.

“You don’t have the right to remain silent,” U.S. representative Elijah Cummings said to citizens at an advocacy meeting held downtown to support the Red Line, on Jan. 7, reported Kevin Rector in the Baltimore Sun.

If Red Line funding is approved, construction can start in 2016 with an expected completion date in 2022 and UB students will have a much quicker affordable route to school and across Baltimore.

Photo Credit: Copenhagenize.com