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

Interview: UB poet and activist, Ron Kipling Williams talks Baltimore, rebellion, and origins

By: Belinda Sacco, Contributor

For Ron Kipling Williams, 2015 has so far proved to be an exciting year. He performed Dreadlocks, Rock ‘n’ Roll, & Human Rights at Artscape, began a student fellowship with the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics, and embarked on his last semester of UB’s M.F.A. program. One gray Monday afternoon, this D.C. native sat down on the top floor of the law building to reflect with me on the future of Baltimore, activism, and rock ‘n’ roll.

“I love the spirit of rebellion and I shouldn’t be ashamed to say it.” – Ron Kipling Williams

What brought you to Baltimore?

Ron Kipling Williams: I felt like I was stagnating artistically and a good friend of mine, Jim Vose said, “Look, why don’t you come to Baltimore? It’s cheap to live. You can figure out what you want to do artistically” and I took him up on it. Honestly, at the time, I thought I would be here for a couple years and then move on to New York because that’s one of the meccas for an artist, and that was a couple decades ago. Baltimore really grew on me. I’ve met so many wonderful people here and [have] done so many wonderful things.

What makes Baltimore feel like more of a home to you than D.C.?

R.K.W.: Baltimore’s a much more friendlier [sic] town. When I started coming up here to visit, I’d walk down the street and I’d say hi to somebody and they’d say hi back, I was like “Wow. This is different.” Baltimore’s a city of neighborhoods. People don’t have the pretense they have in D.C. D.C. is a high-powered town. You’ve got all the government officials, diplomats, corporate heads… and it’s becoming even more gentrified now with more yuppies coming in and more development happening, so even the little cultural havens that existed are basically gone. This is happening nation-wide. Professionals, yuppies, and suburbanite folks are looking to downsize their commute and they’re looking to come back to the city for living and entertainment… It’s a shame. Artists come into an area and they create this cultural hub and then people will see this thriving thing happening and capitalize it and in doing so, they wreck it, because the property values shoot through the roof and then the hub gets destroyed and the artists have to move somewhere else. I hope that doesn’t happen to Baltimore. I know the Station North is starting to explode and we got some great venues, so we’re really amplifying our performing arts and theater arts. I hope it stays that way. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Baltimore. There’s so much talent and so much you can do for a relatively inexpensive price. You can really develop yourself, and I would hate to see a total gentrification of Baltimore.

Baltimore, for the most part, is a very blue collar town. Can you really foresee city-wide gentrification happening?

R.K.W.: There’s a possibility that it wouldn’t, because of the blue collar culture. It doesn’t lend itself to gentrification. You still have a lot of resilient, blue collar neighborhoods and since this city has experienced such a decline in population, it would take a tremendous amount of people coming back in as well as an influx of different industries coming in. Right now, our biggest industry is hospitality. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you have sustainable jobs to go with it. The problem is, you have a lot of low-wage jobs and so people are not able to sustain themselves. They work two or three of these jobs in order to have a decent living… There’s still going to be a fair amount of gentrification…But Baltimore’s also a resilient city, so we fight. We fight like nobody I’ve ever seen before, even during the uprising. You had people telling the media, “get out of here. You’re not around here when we need you and now you’re just coming around for the big story.” Matter of fact, we told Al Sharpton, “Don’t come in here.” He had a brief meeting with [the] mayor and then left… And the media never focused on the fact that the morning after [the uprising], so many people came out to rebuild…We do rebuild after we suffer tragedy.

As someone who’s traveled to cities across the country, how do you think Baltimore compares in terms of poverty and racial inequality? 

R.K.W.: Nationally, racism is a pandemic. Every city has their own set of problems, be it transportation or education or healthcare. We can only work to fix our own backyard and lend support to others when we can… I will say this though: activism is where you are. It’s not this overwhelming thing, it’s not something you have to study for. Just clean up your street. Read to the kids in your neighborhood. Fix the heating in your elderly neighbor’s apartment. [Activism] is where you are.

Where do you think your colossal desire to help people came from?

R.K.W.: As a child, I never felt like I had a voice, like I always had to fight to be heard. I was very fortunate to find writing as a medium by which I could have my voice heard. Then I began performing and as I developed my voice, cultivated my voice, and found the power in it, I discovered that I could help others find their voice. So that’s when began to mentor and workshop [with] others, and do the kinds of shows that would help people find their voice…In between then, it was rock ‘n’ roll and the activist movement. It’s all about breaking barriers, breaking the self-segregating nature of yourself and others and doing your own thing. I love the spirit of rebellion and I shouldn’t be ashamed to say it….

What brought you to the University of Baltimore?

R.K.W.: I was working a job and I got fired and I said, “You know what? I need to go back to school” because my art was stagnating and I needed to take it to the next level. Sometimes getting fired is the best thing that can happen to you. It disrupted everything and it forced me to refocus… It was, I think, the week after I got fired that I went to the admissions office and I enrolled. I wanted to finish my undergrad and get my grad degree in creative writing and publishing… This has become one big workshop process to totally recalibrate everything that I’m doing… I’ve loved the entire experience. I can’t sectionalize it. I’ve loved interacting with other students and becoming friends, mentoring, teaching, taking classes… I’ve been good to UB and UB’s been good to me.

Correction: Jim Vose was mistakenly spelled Boast in the original publication of this article.

James L. Speros, the insight of an entrepreneur

By: Sakina Stamper, Contributor

On Tuesday November 3, 2015, the University of Baltimore welcomed James L. Speros to the Student Center as he shared with students, faculty, and staff some insight on what his life has been like as an entrepreneur. Fully armed with an elaborate Power Point presentation, he took the audience on a journey from working in his family restaurant as a child to becoming the multi-millionaire entrepreneur that he is today.  Mr. Speros captured the attention of an audience full of business minded individuals, executives, students, and aspiring entrepreneurs within the UB family.

If you have never been to a Merrick Engages talk series before, this one would certainly make you hungry for more. The experiences, information, and knowledge Mr. Speros shared unwrapped minds and fed entrepreneurial souls. He began his talk by discussing what inspired him to become an entrepreneur. Growing up with a family restaurant business, founded by his grandfather, inspired him to become an entrepreneur. Mr. Speros said “I knew my family was different from the family across the street”.

Mr. Speros restaurant business experience helped to prepare him for his latest business venture, Velocity Wings. Velocity Wings is a gourmet wing restaurant that is set to be available as a franchise in 2016. When asked whether it is in the pipeline for Velocity Wings to hit Baltimore in the near future, Mr. Speros alluded to the possibility. “I’m good at running restaurants” he said.

Mr.Speros was excellent at running the Baltimore Stallions, turning the naysayers into believers because he had a vision and followed it. He shared that one of the biggest lessons he learned was to “be able to communicate your dream and vision”. According to him, if you cannot communicate this, you will not be able to create a following full of believers. He stated that in business you must be able to identify your “first follower”: someone who believes in your vision to the extent of being committed to supporting your vision in some capacity whether it is as a customer or even an investor.

It is apparent that Mr.Speros is pretty good at doing this, and he encourages the action of creating relationships that will aid in a career as an entrepreneur. His relationships with the NFL, Under Armour, IBM, and ESPN have helped him with several business ventures over the course of his career. Additionally, Mr.Speros encourages entrepreneurs to have mentors. His mentors such as Jack Kemp (one of his previous business mentors) have been instrumental in his life. “A mentor is a very, very important thing to be a successful entrepreneur. To ask questions and get the answers you need,” he said. Mr. Speros also shared that “without relationships you’re not going to go very far. If you have the right relationships, you’ll find the path to success.”

Mr.Speros had an incredible amount of knowledge to share, and there seemed to be something for everyone to learn. After the talk concluded, when asked what he learned, Brody, a UB disciplinary studies major said, “to try and focus what you know and love into something you can evolve.”

The room was full of excitement and everyone was fully engaged in the speaking of Mr. Speros. His natural dialogue created a connection between him and the audience. The Merrick Engages series has served as motivational tools for aspiring and current entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur has to stay motivated because the moment your motivation decreases, and that will be reflected in your performance. UB students were motivated from Mr.Speros talk including Malik, an UB accounting major. When asked whether the talk motivated him, he responded, “Absolutely, I mean he’s a Baltimore entrepreneur. Getting entrepreneurs like him to speak to us gives us something to aspire to.”

Whether your dream is “to be able to create a nonprofit for high school kids” like Paiva, a UB accounting major, or whether it is to be a serial entrepreneur, these “Merrick Engages” talk series are here to help students achieve those goals. By bringing in inspiring entrepreneurs such as James L. Speros, students are able to learn about what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur.