Senate releases proposed changes to academic concession policy for feedback

UBC Vancouver Senate is conducting another policy review to improve academic support for students.

Amidst the long-overdue review of academic accommodations for students with disabilities, the Senate has released proposed changes to the policy on academic concessions — which deal with “conflicting responsibilities and unforeseen events” — for feedback.

Student Senator Max Holmes, chair of the policy review working group, said the implementation of UBC’s sexual assault policy (Policy 131), the need to keep up with proposed changes to academic accommodation and religious holidays policies, and significant student advocacy motivated the policy’s review.

The revisions, which were drafted in collaboration between the Senate academic policy committee, academic advising offices and various accessibility and well-being networks on campus, seek to make the policy clearer for students, faculty and academic advisors.

Chair of the Senate academic policy committee Dr. Paul Harrison stressed that the draft goes into more detail about the grounds for concessions, which he says have been a “a big source of confusion” for students.

“If you read the current short clause in the calendar, all the steps that are in the new policy are actually there, but not as clear,” Harrison said.

“And that’s why the policy goes into detail about … what students are able to request and what they are able to get concessions on,” Holmes added. “Of course, any list is not going to include every single possible concession, but this is expanded very much upon the short statement that we currently have in the current policy.”

The draft aims to make the policy more accessible for students, faculty and academic advisors, while still maintaining academic standards.

“When you get to flexibility, that's talking about things like how much do we need to rely on documentation and how much can we trust students,” Holmes said, “but it's also about clarifying that overall the university also has to uphold the integrity of curriculum.”

Harrison added that some proposed changes look toward expanding the use of self-declarations “when it’s unreasonable to expect official documentation,” noting that some academic units have successfully piloted the practice.

He believes it would reduce the burden on counselling and health services to produce notes for students who experience only short-term illnesses.

“A student who was ill one night goes to a doctor the next day, and all the doctor can say is that the student said they were ill yesterday … It’s kind of a meaningless exercise for the student, for the doctor, for the health system,” Harrison said.

“[This goes toward] trying to believe the students more when it's a short-term issue, which everybody encounters from time to time … and hoping to take the burden off a whole bunch of offices [for] just writing many of those notes.”

Currently, the proposed revisions to the policy are open for consultation until March 31.

Looking ahead, Harrison stressed the need to clearly communicate the proposed revisions to faculty members.

“You can have a policy, whether it's put into practice is the real test,” he said.

“Among faculty there is a wide range of approaches now, some are already following this policy without knowing it, and others are very much in an inflexible response mode. We need to work on that and that’s going to take a lot of education.”