Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)

For FASS undergraduate students

March 25, 2020

Please consult the SFU FAQ about COVID-19 at www.sfu.ca/covid19.

You can also go directly to additional FAQ questions specifically for students in FASS courses.

March 25, 2020

FASS Response to Student Concerns about Grading

A student email campaign activated on March 22 called for compassionate final exam and grading policies. Students asked that SFU immediately permit each student to make their choice of three options:

a) Pass/Fail instruction, whereas there is no effect on GPA but credits are awarded, or;

b) A grade freeze, where further instruction and examination/work terminates effective immediately and letter grades are awarded based on all coursework up to this date (including possibly making finals optional), or;

c) Allowing students to finish the semester as normal.

At the same time, we were hearing from other students anxious to be able to complete their semester.  Certainly, intensive planning was required.

On March 24, The Vice President Academic emailed students with a set of decisions made by the Senate Committee on Undergraduate Studies (SCUS) to change grading practices for the Spring Semester after extensive deliberation.

FASS has prepared this interpretation of the rationale of each of these new grading practices approved by SCUS and of how each of these new measures effectively responds to the options students presented. It also includes other needed information to respond to our students' concerns. It is subject to revision pending forthcoming information on interpretation and implementation from the Registrar (coming in the week of March 30).

Background Rationale: Why does FASS try to uphold letter grades in this time of emergency?
Our view is simple. A lot of investment in effort by both students and instructors and in tuition by students has gone into the semester so far, and we do not think those investments should be written off.  Letter grades are far more meaningful on the transcript for students. They help students in assessing their progress, and show that progress clearly to employers, as well as in applications for post-graduate study. At the same time, we want to uphold a tradition of reasonable accommodation.  

We believe students and instructors in FASS share the ingenuity and compassion to find the best solution for students in completing their semester. In addition, SFU policy already has provisions for accommodating unexpected illnesses and family burdens which the petition overlooked, and these policies emain in effect.

  1. Did SCUS accept our demand for a) Pass/Fail instruction, where credits are awarded and there is no effect on GPA ((a) above)?
  2. Did SCUS accept allowing students to finish the semester as normal in these abnormal times ((c) above)?
  3. Did the Senate Committee on Undergraduate Studies (SCUS) accept the request for an immediate (letter) grade freeze ((b) above), based on work to date?
  4. What additional measures did SCUS plan for that were not mentioned in the Student Petition?
  5. Can I get my tuition back if I choose to Withdraw (WD)?
  6. Can I get some of my tuition back for the Spring 2020 term, in general, due to the unexpected change to remote instruction?
  7. Can I apply for a Withdrawal under Extenuating Circumstances (WE)?
  8. What other policy/matters are under consideration?

1. Did SCUS accept our demand for a) Pass/Fail instruction, where credits are awarded and there is no effect on GPA ((a) above)?

Yes. But SCUS went one step further. Students can make individual decisions about which option they prefer. Unlike usual policy, Pass/Fail option for this semester is not for the whole class. Moreover, students can wait until they receive the final grade to make an informed decision about whether they want to take the Pass/Fail option. Students also have the security of knowing that all Fails (Fs) have been given amnesty for this semester. F grades, whether Pass/Fail or as a graded course, will not affect your GPA.


2. Did SCUS accept allowing students to finish the semester as normal in these abnormal times ((c) above)?

Yes. In addition, please note that existing policy allows students the option of requesting a Deferred Grade (DE) for the semester. There can be pros and cons to requesting a DE, so think through your decision and consult an advisor. We understand that further clarification on simplifying the extended DE option is being prepared.


3. Did the Senate Committee on Undergraduate Studies (SCUS) accept the request for an immediate (letter) grade freeze ((b) above), based on work to date?

No. FASS supports the SCUS decision. Before we explain, let us make one thing clear.

We understand this demand to arise from individual needs to cease further work during this semester due to the unforeseen Covid-19-related circumstances. We are encouraging instructors in FASS to recognize existing policy and to support individual student requests for reasonable accommodation of their particular needs.

The SCUS decision against a freeze weighed several factors: (a) the need for flexibility to accommodate individual needs in difficult circumstances, such as this one; (b) the percentage of work completed; (c) the student’s grade to date; (e) the need to preserve the integrity of students’ academic experience. 

We also needed to recognize that different disciplines have different modes of assessing whether students have learned the course material and are adequately prepared to move on to the next level of courses in the curriculum. Some disciplines have demands from external accreditation bodies as well.

SCUS, and FASS, made a decision based on evidence we gathered. In FASS alone, in the over 1200 courses across the Faculty enrolling 11,000 students, there is currently too much of a variance in the actual work completed to date to allow a blanket freeze and proration of the grade obtained.

At the start of the transition to remote instruction (announced on March 13 in the 9th week of the semester), students in many courses had completed 50% or less of the work to be evaluated for a grade in the course.

During the transition, FASS instructors were asked to consider changing assignments, shifting weight of future assignments, and suspending participation grades, in accordance with departmental practices.

In FASS, Chairs, Directors and Instructors are aware of a rule of proportionality: completion of at least 75 %-80% of the grade, across a number of different modes of assessment gives the most reliable evaluation of an individual’s work.


4. What additional measures did SCUS plan for that were not mentioned in the Student Petition?

In the event that none of the above options work, SCUS has extended the withdrawal (WD) deadline to April 9. This allows students to decide to withdraw from a class and inform their instructor up to April 9, the last day of classes. This is helpful for students who are unable to complete additional work this term in a particular course or courses, or who are struggling with their academic performance, without withdrawing from all courses this semester.


5. Can I get my tuition back if I choose to Withdraw (WD)?

There is no tuition refund for students who choose to Withdraw (WD) from one or more courses up to the extended deadline of April 9.


6. Can I get some of my tuition back for the Spring 2020 term, in general, due to the unexpected change to remote instruction?

If you are one of the majority of students, who have completed ten weeks of in-person instruction, and are being given at least some flexible means to complete your classes remotely for the balance of the semester, a tuition refund is not possible.


7. Can I apply for a Withdrawal under Extenuating Circumstances (WE)?

Please check back on this topic.  Normally, students may apply for a WE as outlined on the WE website and in some cases, may then also apply for a tuition refund. However, due to the COVID-19 situation, further information will be forthcoming on the evidence you will need to support such an application for the Spring 2020 term.


8. What other policy/matters are under consideration?

SFU is preparing guidelines for students, as well as all instructors and advisors, to assist in interpretation of these policies for your completion of this semester. We expect these guidelines to become available early in the week of March 30, if not sooner.  FASS will provide supporting guidance once the university information is available.


March 19, 2020

We in FASS are working hard to ensure, despite these unpredicted changes, that your academic path proceeds as best as possible. It’s an unexpected time for your instructors, for advisors, and for staff, too.

Please have patience. Some of us are learning how to do everything remotely for the first time, as are you. Certainly, none of us has ever been in a situation like this before. We are all having a learning experience, not only about what our classes cover, but also about teaching and learning. People may make missteps. All we expect is that we correct them when they happen.

While social distancing practices may mean we are physically separated, we are all in this together.

Instructors have already begun the process of transitioning to remote teaching this week. FASS departments and faculty and staff are moving to work remotely immediately. This means you are not likely to find staff or advisors physically on site. And indeed, because of social distancing measures, they will provide advice through email.

Advising support in the departments and in Arts Central will continue to be available. Please reach out to advisors via email. Their contact information is available on departmental websites, or in the case of Arts Central, here: https://www.sfu.ca/fass/students/current-students/undergraduate-students/connect-with-arts-central.html

Many of you have been asking questions about academic matters. We created this FAQ to provide answers and will update it as more answers become clear.


1. Are final exams cancelled?

In-person final exams are cancelled as SFU is observing the Provincial Health regulations on social distancing to help stop the spread of the virus. Email your department chair or director immediately if your instructor requests an in-person exam.

Some instructors are arranging final exams on-line. Your instructor should clarify whether or not your course will have a final exam online.

We will have further information about how this will work shortly.


2. Are classes cancelled?

In-person classes on campuses are cancelled and instructors are changing the mode of delivery.

The week of March 16-20, 2020 is a transition week. Instructors will be contacting their students with plans about how to complete the course, including covering the remaining course material, assignments and exams.

Starting the week of March 23, 2020, all instruction will be conducted remotely. All universities in Canada are doing the same (although each is doing it in its own way). Please stay connected.


3. Where do I get information about completing my courses and semester?

Your instructor is your first point of contact about ways to complete your course remotely.

If you have not heard from your instructor by March 20, 2020, you can email the advisor of the unit offering the course.

If you do not hear back in one business day, you can follow up with the undergraduate program chair or department chair of the unit offering the course.

If you don’t hear back by March 24, 2020, you can contact Arts Central: https://www.sfu.ca/fass/students/current-students/undergraduate-students/connect-with-arts-central.html


4. What are the best sources of information about COVID-19 and how it impacts my academic studies at SFU?

  1. SFU’s COVID-19 website. It is a good source of information and is updated regularly with answers to your questions, including new ones. www.sfu.ca/covid19
  2. Your SFU email account. Check it regularly. SFU email is the only secure and approved email for academic purposes. Use Gmail only if SFU mail is down or inaccessible.
  3. This FASS FAQ page for students. We will update this page with new information as our units and instructors keep us posted about questions they are receiving.


5. Who do I contact if I am ill and have a problem completing my course?

If you are concerned that you may have COVID-19, try the BC government COVID-19 self-assessment tool to help guide you on what to do. Students who are looking for advice or support around coping with a diagnosis of COVID-19 should visit http://www.sfu.ca/students/support/. You can also contact student_support@sfu.ca.

As you would if you were sick with a regular illness that was affecting your coursework, report health issues to your instructor. You and your instructor will consider how to accommodate your illness. You may be well enough to complete the work for the semester, or alternative arrangements may need to be made. Talk with your instructor to make those alternative arrangements.

Note: to ensure that physicians are available to treat the critically ill, you will not need to provide a doctor’s note to your instructor.

We hope that this process will be straightforward. If it is not, there is an appeals process to which you can turn. See T20.01.2.4 http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/teaching/t20-01.html

If you are experiencing stress, or family/caregiver pressures, consult these resources: http://www.sfu.ca/students/support/support-covid19.html


6. How can I determine if my academic problem is urgent?

We expect an extraordinarily high volume of queries from students. We are committed to providing support to our students and ensuring continuation of academic programs during these challenging times.

We will prioritize inquiries from students who are in one of the following categories:

  • Students who are close to graduation
  • Students who are at risk of being required to withdraw
  • First year students uncertain of how to transition into the second year.

Once we have a better sense of volume, we will post the time frames in which you can expect a response.


7. I don’t have a home computer or access to Wi-Fi. How am I supposed to complete the semester?

We recognize that students who do not have access to a home computer, Wi-Fi, or a reliable internet connection may now be unable to access the internet in public places (due to the recommended social isolation). These students will be eligible for special accommodation and SFU is working on solving this problem.

Currently, computer labs remain open, and we understand that they will remain open for the foreseeable future. We will keep you posted.

If you have a laptop or tablet, SFU Wi-Fi on campus remains active and accessible. When off-campus, internet provider Shaw is now providing complimentary and unrestricted access to network hotspots regardless of whether or not they’re a Shaw customer: https://www.shaw.ca/internet/wifi. TELUS also has free Wi-Fi hotspots: https://www.telus.com/en/internet/free-wifi-hotspots.

Those who are visually or otherwise impaired and are already registered with the Centre for Accessible Learning may consult https://www.sfu.ca/students/accessible-learning.html.


8. Will I be graded down if my connection online fails or I don’t know how to use the remote technology?

Instructors are working to ensure that you can complete this semester to allow you to make progress towards your degree. We also recognize that there will be individual student issues that have to be resolved. We are asking instructors to be aware that these problems may arise and to work with students to find alternatives.

We recognize that different individuals have different levels of comfort with technology. We are encouraging instructors to keep it simple in this unexpected move to remote teaching.

If you are not tech-savvy, don’t panic. Ask questions. Ask your peers on-line through Canvas how to trouble-shoot. Talk to a friend on the phone. Talk to your instructor. Remember, right now we are all improvising and trying to make it work, so you are not alone.

If you are a tech wiz, do not expect high tech, gaming visuals or live-streaming, interactive technology. We are striving to use the most reliable and accessible platforms, but also to protect privacy, not relying on a US-based service. Be patient if this is too low tech for you.


9. My instructor has changed the grading scheme from what was announced at the beginning of the semester and I don’t like the way my grade is now being calculated. What can I do?

Please try to appreciate the extraordinary circumstances we are in. Because face-to-face instruction is no longer possible and in-person exams are cancelled, your instructor has to adjust their plan for the rest of the semester and to improvise alternative ways of achieving the educational goals of the course.

Your overarching aim in taking the course was to learn the course material (although we know you also wanted to accrue credits and make progress towards your degree). Does the alternative grading scheme do a reasonable job of meeting the course goals? The new plan is reasonable if it tracks the goals of the course.

If, upon reflection, you are still dissatisfied, there is an appeals process to which you can turn. See T20.01.2.4 http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/teaching/t20-01.html.


10. Will delays jeopardize convocation?

SFU and FASS are committed to helping students complete this semester and for those students in their final courses, to complete their degrees. The Registrar, the VPA Academic, Ceremonies and Events, and many senior staff across the university are working together to try to find the optimum solution that may be possible in June, when we normally hold Convocation.

We all know that Convocation is an important milestone and celebration for our students and your families. It is one of the highlights of the year for our faculty and staff as we celebrate your accomplishments. We are obviously unable to predict the state of our community in a few months but we are hopeful that today’s containment procedures will allow us to hold our largest gathering of the year.


11. Will I be able to evaluate my courses this semester?

We acknowledge that the expectations for both students and instructors were changed mid-stream, and any evaluation of courses cannot be independent of this shift in expectations. Therefore, it was decided that student experiences with teaching and courses (SETC) evaluation will not occur this term.

Your instructor may ask for feedback via Canvas, SurveyMonkey, or SFU Websurvey. The university is committed to understanding the student experience during these unprecedented times, and we are considering ways to gather that information from our students.