Senate Summed Up: Arts grad class standing changes and ombuds recommendations

At its first meeting of the new year on January 20, the UBC Vancouver Senate approved changes to class standings and heard a presentation from the ombudsperson.

Here’s a rundown of what you need to know.

New class standings for graduating arts students

Senate voted 64–2 in favour of a motion to change how the Faculty of Arts designates class standing at graduation for students.

Previously, graduates would receive either a Class 1, Class 2 or P standing on their transcript upon completion of their degree.

The approved changes divide Class 1 into “with Distinction” for those with an average between 80–84.9 per cent and “with High Distinction'' for those with an average of 85 per cent or higher, and eliminates the P standing entirely. Calculations are based on all courses numbered 300 or higher attempted at UBC.

Students can now have their standing printed on their degree parchment.

Dean of Arts Gage Averill explained the rationale behind the decision, stating that the new standings would be “much more understandable” to students, parents and other institutions.

Averill also referenced a survey conducted last fall that found that approximately 80 per cent of arts students supported the proposal.

Justin Zheng, an arts student senator, expressed his support for the change.

“It creates a good inclusive environment for students while also recognizing the achievements that students have obtained during their degree,” he said.

Ombudsperson presents 2019 report

Ombudsperson for Students Shirley Nakata presented the 2019 Office of the Ombudsperson Report which made several recommendations to the President, Office of University Legal Counsel and the Registrar, including many that were presented in the 2018 report.

Among these suggestions was that all adjudicators go through mandatory procedural fairness training prior to their first tribunal, that at least one student was present on every tribunal panel, and that all appealable decisions included information related to the appeal process and support systems for students.

The only new recommendation in the 2019 report called for the development of guidelines and templates so adjudicators can provide students with “timely and sufficient reasons” about decisions.

Academic Policy Committee chair Dr. Kin Lo voiced concerns around one recommendation that would require the disclosure of tribunal reports to students before a decision is made by the President, suggesting that it was not standard for legal processes.

Nakata responded, noting that a student was “entitled” to respond to the information presented to the final decision maker.

“This is something that I will keep pressing as a critical element of procedural fairness in law.”

Land and Food Systems Student Senator Anisha Sandhu asked other senators why recommendations made in the 2018 report had not been implemented yet.

Registrar Dr. Kate Ross said her office was working on training adjudicators, but that the process would take time given limited staff capacity. She didn’t mention a timeline.

Dr. Paul Harrison, the Nominating Committee chair, acknowledged that he did not have the full answer, but that the review of the appeals committees approved earlier in the meeting may start to address the recommendations.

“I will point to the preceding item on our agenda where the Senate has agreed to look in detail at appeals, processes and procedures … So I think that we can take heart in that at least in the next few months there will be a concerted effort to look into some of these issues.”

This article was updated to clarify that graduation class standings are calculated based on upper-level courses.