Category Archives: Uncategorized

Socially Just Grading: A Compassionate Path for COVID-19 Impacted Students

Before you do anything, stop and recall the face of the weakest person you have seen, and ask yourself: Is what I’m about to do going to help him or her regain control of their destiny?

– Mahatma Gandhi

This Ghandhian philosophy (also referred to as “the last girl”) is a social justice orientation in which communities and institutions center equity and justice in their decision making by thinking of the individual who suffers the most, has the most barriers, or who comes in last due to institutional barriers.

If we are inclined to make compassionate, socially-just decisions with the most vulnerable students in mind a Universal Pass should be considered as the most equitable option, followed by University/College-wide opt-in pass/fail. Universal Pass standardizes a passing grade for all students so that employers, graduate schools, or other external evaluators cannot stigmatize students who chose to take a pass, deeming them less competent than their peers who took a letter grade simply because they some students may struggle more than others in this transitional, dynamic crisis. If not a universal pass, a pass/fail grading system can still provide relief for students.

At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I oversee a course for students who are struggling academically and who are some of the most vulnerable on campus. Our basic task is to get them to pass their courses, get off probation if applicable, and re-enroll next semester. I think of those 90+ students (and the hundreds of others on academic probation and not enrolled in the course) and the wonders that a universal pass policy could do for them and their likelihood of return to campus in the fall.

I can say with confidence–and this is often affirmed by the folks working in student services with whom we closely collaborate–that academic ability/proficiency is rarely the primary factor impeding success.

Instead, we spend most of our time helping students overcome mental health challenges caused by recent or historical trauma that hinder their ability to “do school”. We spend time helping them navigate the burden of financial strains; some still can’t find a way to buy the math ALEKS program halfway through the semester because their financial aid had to be used for a family emergency. We spend time empowering them to self-advocate and navigate a system riddled with a hidden curriculum, because the ivory tower wasn’t historically built for them.

The issues these students face are now exponentially compounded. A universal pass policy this semester affords them an equitable path forward in their education.

But it is not just the historically vulnerable students to whom we must attend. We must now consider students who are newly vulnerable. This testimony from a grad student makes this clear:

I initially thought the extended break period would make it easier to get assignments completed, I was wrong.

All of my immediate and extended family is living in California where, as you know, the COVID situation is significantly worse. I have immediate family members who went outside of the U.S prior to the spread of the COVID virus; now we are trying to figure out if they should remain abroad or return to California. Many people I know are very low-income workers with no benefits and very likely to be left without income in the coming days.

The situation is impacting me economically and emotionally in ways that I had not expected while immersed in my privileged graduate school bubble.

There is absolute, unequivocal relief that a compassionate, socially just grading system would give all our students this semester, but especially those historically and newly vulnerable. If we have any hope of helping them bridge this crisis into next semester, let us choose the most equitable path that will allow students to regain control of their futures.

Jacqueline Nguyen

UWM AAUP Executive Committee

Academic Jubilee: The Case for Clemency in a Time of Crisis

This is the first of a planned series by UWM AAUP members and allies about how universities and instructors might respond to the pandemic crisis in our teaching and, in particular, grading.

The practice of jubilee suggests a once-in-a-lifetime clemency for all things: slaves are freed, debts are forgiven, sentences are commuted.  A biblical tradition that has been practiced over time in many different contexts, jubilee may suggest a useful alternative for higher education during our current, extraordinary times.  Specifically, we might pursue a jubilee in terms of grading, and take that pressure off of ourselves and our students.  On my campus, we are beyond the point in the semester where individual students can change their grading options. Therefore, we need broad action on the part of campus administration.

At universities across the country, campuses have been shuttered. Employees are encouraged to work remotely; most if not all courses have been put online.  Feeling pressure to provide the full course experience, instructors not previously inclined to teach full online courses hasten to figure out the intricacies of remote delivery, parsing questions of technology, synchronous or asynchronous delivery, access to internet service for all students.

At the same time, many students must evacuate their living quarters in dorms and apartments, confronting financial, logistical and emotional challenges in doing so. Carefully constructed plans of study seem to evaporate into thin air at the same time that many of our students function as caregivers for relatives.  In light of campus closures, many students lack internet access and will be relegated to figuring out what they can do on their phones.

All of this takes place at a time of unprecedented pressure.  The advent of global pandemic conveys anxiety even for those fortunate enough to be healthy.  Many students and faculty are parents, with kids marooned at home by school closures and social distancing protocols.  And we don’t yet know what the full impact of the pandemic will be on ourselves, our friends, colleagues, students, and academic units.

Academic labor selects for those who tend towards studiousness. Many of us may well find comfort in reading and writing and planning classes. Others find concentration elusive at this time of crisis.  We may urge ourselves and our students to buckle down, thinking we owe it to them and to ourselves to do the best jobs possible with the remainder of the semester, whatever our circumstances or modes of delivery.

It’s worth being mindful that this crisis is just beginning, that we don’t know how we or our students will experience it, and that a little bit of grace goes a long way under fire. Alternate approaches to our teaching may provide some relief for ourselves and our students.  The unprecedentedness of this time, while catastrophic on many levels, also suggests that we reconsider questions of rigor, particular in terms of grading and evaluation.

As Rebecca Barrett-Fox suggests in a widely circulated blog piece: “Don’t do too much. Right now, your students don’t need it. They need time to do the other things they need to do.”

As faculty overhaul courses to put them online, it might be prudent to consider a grading jubilee. One possibility is that students could be offered a pass-fail option. Those who are on track to getting grades they are satisfied with could pursue them; others would be apprised of the minimum standards necessary to complete the class for credit.

Alternately, instructors could implement a “universal pass” option, as Yale University publications have recently endorsed. Students would receive a “P” on their transcripts with an explanation of the context.

The semester we invested in and planned for is effectively over.  While our courses continue during this extraordinary Spring, let’s think about our collective survival.

Rachel Ida Buff, UWM AAUP

Selected Resources to Help Teachers, Students, & Others Weather the Pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic has upended virtually every aspect of our lives, from how, where, and even whether we work or study right now; to how we socialize and entertain ourselves; and even to how we shop for our daily needs. Some of those changes may be temporary, though many of us are already talking of having lost track of time, since the schedules most of us previously had in place have gone out the window. Other changes will be long-lasting, in ways that feel difficult to imagine right now.

One thing we know for certain is that higher education, and indeed K-12 education along with it, operates at least for the moment in markedly different ways than it did even a week ago. Again, countless people–instructors, students, parents, administrators, support staff–are scrambling to figure out the implications of these changes on a daily basis. At the same time, we find ourselves turning simultaneously into armchair epidemiologists, learning how the disease works and spreads; overnight experts in distance learning, whether that be by teaching courses, taking courses, or helping our children learn–or possibly all three at once; practitioners of social distancing, figuring out how to foster the bonds that are so fundamental to our humanity even when they’re devoid of literal human touch; navigators of a world whose brick-and-mortar businesses are increasingly scaling back or shutting down; and players of numerous other roles we never imagined playing until recently.

These cataclysmic changes have sparked many lively conversations among academics suddenly figuring out — often with extraordinary support from pedagogy and IT staff — how to move face-to-face courses online for the rest of the spring 2020 semester. The logistics and implications of that dramatic shift in turn spark many other ones. We in the UWM AAUP therefore thought it would be helpful to offer the list below of resources for tips on online teaching, information about the pandemic, and other tools for simply getting through the day with body and mind reasonably intact.

All of us in the UWM AAUP send best wishes during this challenging time.

Teaching, learning, UWM responses, & higher ed more broadly

Academic Preparedness for Teaching and Learning | UWM Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Please Do a Bad Job of Putting Your Courses Online

UW Extended Campus COVID-19 Teaching Resources

Move Your Course Online for Spring 2020 (self-paced course)

https://www.facebook.com/groups/PlagueAverse/ (tips/discussions for moving from f2f to online)

Home – 2019 Novel Coronavirus Information [UW-Milwaukee’s responses to the crisis]

Coronavirus Information for Higher Ed: higher-ed and other resources from the AAUP

Resource List for Distance Learning & Research (Hesburgh Libraries, Notre Dame)

Activities for parents, kids, and everyone else

Wisconsin coronavirus: Spectrum offers students free internet access

12 Museums From Around the World That You Can Visit Virtually | Travel + Leisure

Great list of ideas for family activities 

Live Stream Schedule | 58th [Ann Arbor Film Festival, March 24 – 29]

Mental and physical well-being

Wellness Resources for Students by Kristin Kiely 

Beat Your Isolation Loneliness (The Happiness Lab podcast) 

A Pause for Your Wellness

Resources for information and updates about COVID-19

Coronavirus disease 2019 [World Health Organization] 

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) | Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”

COVID-19 #CoronaVirus Infographic Datapack

How to Protect Yourself From Coronavirus When Grocery Shopping

Tips on Studenting While Quarantined

British Columbia COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool

Comic relief

Welcome to Your Hastily Prepared Online College Course

If Coronavirus Doesn’t Kill Us, Distance Learning Will (an Israeli mother’s rant) 

Lavatevi Le Mani… (humorous Italian PSA)

I Would Prefer Not to Change My Password: A Security Journal

Professor Bartleby Hoffman

UW-Milwaukee

Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

Today, I forgot my office keys and left my Duo fob at home on my dresser next to my hand sanitizer. I realized right before my class that I couldn’t get in to the network. It was a nightmare.

Duo is so damned difficult! It is so difficult to navigate that even Siri won’t talk to it!

It is being so difficult that I hear they’re sending it to a relationship counselor!

I hate Duo, the little fob that I finger in my pocket, pressing the unsatisfying squishy button to randomly generate numbers. They’ve made me ashamed of my old password: guest1234567. Pa55w0rD_5ham1ng really upsets me.

I am learning now that the generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance. I wrote my new password down on the IT Security Certificate I earned through an online training course. I printed it as proof that I excelled at the exercise, and taped it to my office door. It’s cool, because I can declare it as advanced training on my annual merit form. Nothing is wasted, everything recycled. Number thirteen? Not on my watch!

Monday, November 4, 2019

There was a problem with some of the computers in Student Housing getting drunk over the weekend. They were all taking screenshots.

Campus police investigated, but couldn’t de-acquisition them because they were all over twenty-one years old.

There was a big party in the modem pool. Security was slack, and someone hacked the splash page. Color palette norms were violated, branding ran amok, recruitment was seriously compromised, and the future looks grim.

Trash piles up in the hallways. Everyone has taken early retirement or been rehired on an hourly basis. The State Legislature continues to fund us at thirty cents on the dollar compared to Madison. To make things worse, some of our colleagues in STEM lost a massive NSF grant they had received for designing a more efficient keyboard. They weren’t putting in enough shifts. The state jumped on this as yet another good argument against tenure.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Proof today that our modest AAUP chapter cares as much about UWM staff as we do faculty. We were called in to help a UWM Staff Security Specialist who was reprimanded by the administration for always showing up late for work. This didn’t seem fair. He had a hard-drive. They dropped the case, but parking remains a problem.

I realized today that autocorrect has become my worst enema. I heard in a Chairs and Director’s meeting that our Public Relations & Communications Resource Manager got severely constipated while writing an important PR blast about Pounce, the Panther. His laptop was broken so he had to work it all out with his pencil. It wasn’t pretty. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

It has been awhile since I’ve had time to write. A lot has happened at the institution lately. They’ve taken away titles, but then assured us that we can still use them for business cards and email signatures. There is a new “Zero Tolerance” policy that links our paltry raises with the filling out of multiple forms and taking of online security tests which never seem to change. I’m not sure which forms I need to complete, and found all of my security reminders and notifications in my email junk drawer.

Some of us suspect that the security emails are generated by bots since they don’t comply with their own standards. The test is cool, however, and I’ve got a new certificate to prove it; the third one on my office door. We are told that we need to do better, be better, work harder, retire earlier, to make this a “best place to work.”

I’m feeling anxious lately. I took my new password in to our folks in IT to be sure I was changing it correctly. I don’t want to make mistakes. The IT staff member, always helpful, asked me my password. “Chapman_Hall,” I said, and I proudly explained that the C and the H were capitalized, with an underscore between the two words. He looked at me, concerned. He paused, then hesitantly observed, “Ugh…that’s not a very strong password!” I was crestfallen, and he noticed it. I think he wanted to make me feel better so he added, “I’m curious… Why did you choose the words Chapman Hall?” “Oh, it’s obvious!” I replied, eager to explain my foolproof logic. “I read on our IT website that really good passwords were full of irrelevant and disconnected characters that make little sense to anyone else!”

Monday, March 2, 2020

AAUP asked me to write 500 words on our Chancellor. I got a few done, but then campus police came and pulled me off. Please let my friends know that I will be needing their help. You can access my email with my new password: “Eye_W00d_Pr3f3r_N0t_2.”

I was assured that it is moderately acceptable, which is all I can muster these days.

Response to Babson College’s Firing of Mr. Asheen Phansey

The UWM AAUP is deeply concerned by the news of Babson College’s termination of Mr. Asheen Phansey, who had taught there as an adjunct professor in its MBA program since 2008, and Director of Sustainability since early 2019. The college fired Mr. Phansey just days after he posted sardonic comments on his Facebook page in response to Donald Trump’s threat to bomb 52 sites of cultural significance in Iran should that country attack any American citizens or assets. In response, Mr. Phansey wrote, “In retaliation, Ayatollah Khomenei should tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb. Um… Mall of America? Kardashian residence?”

It is clear that Mr. Phansey’s remarks on a social media site in no way advocated violence. Just as Jonathan Swift was not advocating the poor be eaten in “A Modest Proposal,” commenting on the childhood squalor in 18th-century British-ruled Ireland, it is abundantly evident that Mr. Phansey’s remarks were a commentary on the threat made by President Trump to destroy cultural sites in Iran. This threat was later rescinded by President Trump by his own recognition that such an act would have been illegal. 

Whether one applauds or approves of Mr. Phansey’s sense of humor is beside the point. Long-established standards of academic freedom, as well as due process, make it clear that the college’s actions are both wrongheaded and hasty. The AAUP’s 1964 “Committee A Statement on Extramural Utterances” speaks to key issues at play in Mr. Phansey’s situation:

The controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness to serve. Extramural utterances rarely bear upon the faculty member’s fitness for continuing service. Moreover, a final decision should take into account the faculty member’s record as a teacher and scholar. In the absence of weighty evidence of unfitness, the administration should not prefer charges…

Babson’s administration claims to have undertaken a “thorough investigation” of Mr. Phansey’s comments before reaching its decision to terminate his employment. That claim cannot be taken seriously. The Facebook post that prompted the “investigation” appeared on January 5. The college announced on January 8 that it was suspending him with pay pending the outcome of an internal investigation. The next day, it announced that it was firing him for his statement.

Committee A’s 1964 statement speaks to obvious due-process violations here as well. “In cases involving … charges [that a faculty member has breached obligations to the institution in his or her public utterances], it is essential that the hearing should be conducted by an appropriate–preferably elected–faculty committee…” The college would not have had time to assemble such a committee in this case, much less give that committee the time and space to carefully review all the facts before considering whether to terminate a colleague’s employment.

For the above reasons, we join the chorus of voices calling for Babson College to reconsider its actions and restore Mr. Phansey to the positions he previously held there.

Our Response to the UW System’s Title & Total Compensation Plan

The UWM AAUP deplores the recent announcement of imminent changes to UWM instructional academic staff job titles under the UW System’s Title and Total Compensation (TTC) plan. This initiative, being carried out through a reported $900,000 arrangement with Mercer Consulting, plans to collapse the three titles of Associate Lecturer, Lecturer, and Senior Lecture into the single title of Lecturer. The process that has led to this plan is deeply flawed, and the plan itself riddled with worrying implications and unanswered questions.

The plan to fold three job titles into one has not given the lecturers themselves—those who best understand their own jobs and are most directly affected by these changes—a voice in the decision-making process. Neither the lecturers nor their colleagues on the faculty, most of whose academic programs cannot function without the work our lecturers do, have been offered an opportunity to offer feedback on these proposed changes. The path to this plan thus subverts long-established norms of due process and shared governance.

Communications to academic staff from HR professionals have raised more questions than they have answered. Administrators have failed to offer a compelling rationale for:

  • why a trio of titles, each clearly defined and with a clear path to promotion from one level to the next that is accompanied by a significant boost in pay, should be collapsed into one;
  • what mechanism will exist in future to give these professionals a path to advancement, in terms of both higher compensation and titles befitting their professional achievements;
  • why professionals who have earned the title of Senior Lecturer—through years of hard work and a rigorous peer-review process—should now have that title taken from them: in essence a demotion, even if it does not affect their paychecks in the short run;
  • why lecturers have been denied an opportunity to explore, through a reasonable feedback process, the other potential negative consequences of these changes to lecturers, their students, and their academic programs.

It is little wonder, then, that numerous lecturers, at all three exisiting ranks, have come away from recent information sessions with HR staff feeling disrespected, dismissed, and demoralized.

We share our colleagues’ dismay and support a decision-making process that gives them a voice, recognizes their countless contributions to UWM, and addresses many questions that have yet to be answered. We urge the UW System to refrain from reaching a final decision on possible changes to lecturers’ job titles until all of these vitally important goals are achieved.

In solidarity with UWM instructional academic staff,

The UWM AAUP

UWM AAUP Statement on DACA, November 2019

We assert our continued support for undocumented students, whether or not they are currently certified by the DACA program.  We call upon our campus and UW System administrators to strengthen existing practices and create additional, viable practices that ensure the collective well-being of all our students, and that continue to extend the “beneficent influence of the university to every family in the state.”

Undocumented student access to public higher education in our state and across the United States is crucial. Nowhere in the Wisconsin Idea’s assertion of wide access to the resources of the University of Wisconsin system is citizenship status specified as a prerequisite.

The federal assault on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program violates the spirit and practice of the Wisconsin Idea. We recognize this as an attack not only on foreign-born communities, but on the continued vitality of public higher education. Undermining DACA discourages broad student access, resulting in declining enrollments and further disinvestment in public education. This assault on tuition equity and student access weakens education for all.