UBC Senate passes standardized academic concessions policy

After a lengthy debate during the May 2019 meeting, the UBC Vancouver Senate passed a policy standardizing academic concessions across campus.

Policy V-135 outlines the grounds on which students can ask for academic concessions and what forms concessions can take.

“It helps … students when life events get in the way of their academics,” said Dr. Paul Harrison, chair of the Senate academic policy committee which oversaw the policy’s development.

But before its approval, some senators expressed concerns about what it would look like for their faculties.

Out with the old

The fully-fledged policy replaces the academic concession policy in the academic calendar. According to Max Holmes, student senator and chair of the policy review working group, Policy V-135 aims to “clarify current practices” around concession.

“We didn’t really have clear grounds that students could understand,” he said. “It’s not as if we didn’t give academic concessions out for many of these things [already].”

Effective this September, the policy describes concessions instructors or advising offices can give, such as an alternate time to take a missed test or an assignment deadline extension. In other cases, a student’s dean might grant them deferred standing or allow them to drop the course retroactively.

“A lot of the decisions [were] left to individual course instructors,” said Harrison. “[Students were] bargaining with an instructor about what can be done.”

The policy is based on principles of “transparency, flexibility, and compassion” and lays out three grounds where students can request concession: conflicting responsibilities, medical circumstances and compassionate grounds.

A self-declaration option

Currently, students who miss class for acute illness have to provide a doctor’s note to receive a concession.

Policy V-135 introduces self-declaration forms that students will be able to fill out instead. Harrison says this will not only make concession more accessible for students who don’t have doctors but will also alleviate stress on the medical system.

“For years, the medical system on campus and off has been imploring us to stop sending students to medical offices for one-off illnesses,” he said.

Information gathered from the forms could also feed into UBC’s Early Alert system and identify students needing more help.

Unlike previous policy, Policy V-135 identifies compassionate grounds for academic concession, including when someone close to the student has passed way or when a student is a sexual assault survivor.

Holmes added that the new policy is aligned with Policy 131 on sexual assault and sexual misconduct. By allowing students to submit self-declaration forms, the policy supports survivors who may not feel comfortable seeking help after facing trauma.

“We didn’t want to have … this draconian policy that said documentation, no matter what,” he said. “We want to trust students more.”

Making no concessions

Before Senate approved the policy, Dr. Carol Jaeger, associate dean academic of the faculty of applied science, expressed concern that accepting self-declarations instead of doctor’s notes could allow students to miss class without consequences.

Harrison believes the policy won’t let students off the hook.

Policy V-135 states that academic concession must uphold a course’s “academic standards,” and some programs like those in applied science must meet certain requirements to maintain their accreditation.

“It’s not like you get a bye and don’t have to be tested on that particular material,” Harrison said. “ There needs to be found … a different way to meet those learning goals.”

“Would we rather support 50 more students who need our help or prevent one more student from abusing the system?” Holmes added.

Jaeger declined to comment for this article.

Dr. Catherine Dauvergne, dean of the Allard School of Law, was also concerned about conflicts with Allard’s concession policy. It covers cases specific to law students, like when a student has to represent a client in court during exam period.

At Senate, Dauvergne said Allard’s council couldn’t amend its policy to comply with V-135 during the summer due to difficulty reaching quorum. She added that she wasn’t given enough time to review Policy V-135’s final draft submitted by the academic policy committee on May 3.

The Senate voted against her request for a grace period that would allow Allard’s faculty council to reconcile its own policy with V-135. Dauvergne did not respond when contacted for comment.

Holmes says if the two policies differ, Senate policy should rule.

“The very simple solution is the Senate policy trumps the faculty policy,” he said. “That’s how our university system works.”

Until then, a committee will plan Policy V-135’s implementation this summer. The committee will create a template for self-declaration forms that faculties can customize and will write responses to frequently asked questions for students and faculty.

“No matter what issues arise over the next year, the new policy is going to allow for a university that trusts our students more,” said Holmes.