Undergraduate Council Special Meeting Minutes
March 14, 2014

Attending: Kathleen Bratby, Colleen Cheslak, Jeff Ge, Kane Gillespie, Cheryl Hamilton, Rick Gatteau, Norm Goodman, Michael Mooney, Anne Moyer, Jean Peden, Peter Stephens, Scott Sutherland

Guests: Provost Dennis Assanis, Peter Baigent, David Ferguson, Gene Hammond, Bradon Hosch, Mary Lee, Charles Robbins, Kara Desanna (student) Faisia Choudhury (student)

Provost Assanis asked the UG Council to attend a special meeting to discuss the minimum grade required to receive credit for Stony Brook Curriculum (SBC) courses.  He noted that the initiative to raise 4-year graduation rates coupled with new data regarding the numbers of C-, D+, and D course grades earned in DEC courses merits revisiting this issue.

Bradon Hosch presented data indicating that among 21,919 unduplicated undergraduate students who were enrolled for credit in the fall 2011, spring 2012, fall 2012, or spring 2013 semesters indicated that 37.7% earned one or more course grades of C-, D+, or D in their first attempt in a DEC course in a DEC area. Further breakdown by race indicated that Hispanic and Black/African American students had higher percentages of these grades than White and Asian students.

A number of points related to the question of requiring a C or better for SBS courses were raised:

  • There is a tension between serving students by implementing a rigorous standard and ensuring that graduation rates are adequate, particularly when some students are under pressure to graduate in a timely manner.
  • It is important that academic concerns take priority in setting such standards, and that this is a faculty decision.
  • A suggestion was made to consider a C average across SBC courses. A related sentiment was that students can be strong in some areas and less strong in others, so insisting on C grade in all courses may be harmful. The question of whether standards should be different for major requirements versus general education requirements was also posed.
  • There was disagreement regarding what level of competence/mastery a grade of C indicates, and the fact that this varies by discipline and that D’s and F’s don’t have well-defined standards was noted. There was concern that a D grade would be rendered meaningless. Who is considered an undergraduate and falls under these standards is also an important consideration.
  • Students may be better served by having to retake a course following a grade below C. The fewer number of SBC requirements will ease the absolute number of retakes.
  • The majority of AAU’s do not have a C requirement.
  • The data compels us to be sure to better serve struggling students and to consider in particular STEM offerings appropriate for students not in STEM majors. One Member relayed an account of a student who did poorly in an initial math course, but succeeded and developed an appreciation for the subject in a more appropriate math course. We need to think of ways to support our students and help them to do better and we need to be careful to not move in a direction that will not lead to disastrous consequences.
  • Students may or may not respond to the C requirement by putting more focus and effort in to achieving success in their general education courses.
  • There was discussion of whether delaying the implementation of a C standard would be prudent or whether this would make it more difficult to implement a higher standard later.
  • There is already inconsistency in the DEC regarding what standards are sufficient for particular areas such as English, Math, and Languages, and an across the board C would implement consistency.
  • One student member and two student attendees noted that the C standard was a positive reflection on the reputation of the school and was motivating. One student attendee commended one of the Council members on a course that was appropriate for non-majors. This student also noted that courses in her major that include non-majors seem to be taught at too low a level and felt that the C standard would exacerbate this. Additional student input on the new curriculum and policies has been solicited by the Implementation Committee, and more was encouraged.
  • There was a general feeling that the new information failed to persuade those who are in favor of the grade of C being the  minimum grade required to receive credit for SBC courses to reconsider their position.

Provost Assanis asked the Council to continue to consider this important issue with the goal of increased 4-year graduation rates in mind, while the urgency to let students to know what the standards are was also emphasized.

Respectfully submitted,
Anne Moyer