Don’t get stuck

Kelly Tyko

Senior Jenny Patterson didn’t know. Neither did freshman David Quant. Sophomore Quillon Grant didn’t. The 20 other students that the UP randomly approached didn’t know.

And chances are you don’t know either.

The “W” policy, officially the withdrawal policy, is changing. This fall semester, students had approximately four weeks to drop courses without receiving a “W” on their transcripts, come spring semester that grace period will be almost non-existent — if you drop a course after the first week of the semester, it’ll be on your transcript.

Their eyes opened wide, their mouths hung open, and then they got mad. Students Patterson, Quant, Grant, and others had no idea that the policy was changing, but were clearly annoyed when the UP told them.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Quant, a music major. “The first week of class we don’t do anything.”

“This is ridiculous,” said Patterson, a history major. “Things like this are why I won’t attend FAU for grad school.”

Senior Irwin Fried takes public administration classes, which are usually offered on Saturday. “Students who have night classes have one chance to get familiar with the syllabus and the professors teaching style,” said Fried, a Student Government representative for the northern campuses.

Students like Fried have to decide whether to stay in the class or drop it, before even attending class. And with the new policy, now they’ll also need to decide whether they want a W.

Student Government has been fighting the policy change since May and their one victory was when they got a one-semester extension. Originally, the change was to start this fall.

“We fought this, but no progress was made. We’ve accepted that we can’t change it,” said Brandey Parker, SG governor of the Boca Raton campus.

Even though SG officials have accepted defeat, they’re still upset.

SG’s Academics Director Abby Ross doesn’t think the school’s higher-ups want students to know about the new policy. “They just want to screw us over.

“There are thousands of these books with misprinted schedules,” said Ross, pointing to a copy of the FAU 2002-2003 Student Handbook, which is mainly distributed during orientation.

According to Ross, who’s job it is to find ways to improve our academic policy and academic programs, the only thing the administration did to tell students about the new policy was update the policy on the university’s website and send out an email.

(see How to add, drop, or withdraw from courses)

Why is the policy changing?

Associate Provost Michael Armstrong says the policy is changing “to provide a more accurate record on the University transcript of actual withdrawal activities.”

It’s about fairness, said chemistry professor Mark Jackson. He said, “The main academic reason faculty supported the change was that this new policy made the system fair for all students who drop classes.”

While the new policy isn’t something SG officials call “fair,” Parker said she can understand why the administration thinks it’s needed.

“Basically they believed they were giving students too much time. If they did poorly it let them get out — get out of getting a bad grade,” Parker said.

FAU’s administration and faculty call this grade shopping. And they believe many FAU students are guilty of it.

“Grade shopping is a term that is occasionally used to refer to the action of a student enrolling in a course, often a rigorous one, with the intent to drop at a future date if one’s grade is not as high as one would like, thereby ‘shopping’ for a good grade. An overly liberal withdrawal policy may encourage such activity,” Armstrong said.

To Fred Hoffman, chair of the University Faculty Council (UFC), “Grade shopping covers a multitude of sins, including registering for more courses than one wants to take and then bailing out of the one with the lowest expected grade, or, more generally, any case of bailing because of an expected grade.”

But changing the policy punishes all students — especially ones that never grade shopped, Parker argued. “And when we do [grade shop], that hurts us. We’re prolonging our own graduation.”

‘Nearly all other universities’ do, why not FAU?

According to Armstrong, “Nearly all other universities record a ‘W’ or similar notation on the transcript of withdrawals during this period.”

Not true, say SG officials.

Ross and Parker checked other Florida universities to find out their policies. They found FAU’s old policy to be the norm. (To see how other schools compare, see How FAU compares.)

With the new policy, “We would be by far the most severe,” Parker said.

Parker believes FAU’s administration is trying too hard to be like a traditional university: “Think about the students that have families. You can’t put us inline with UF, that’s not our system.

“We’re never going to be UF, FSU, Berkeley, we need to be who we are. I’d expect our administration to make decisions that are best for our students. To do what’s best for our population of students,” Parker said.

Developing sound and fair policies is the best approach to Prof. Jackson, but he does see a problem.

“Unfortunately, the local culture is to follow the maxim ‘this is just FAU’ and not really demand excellence from students or faculty,” said Jackson, who’s also the secretary for the UFC, a governance body for faculty.

Let’s concentrate on making policies for “just FAU,” said Student Body President Pablo Paez. Mentioning another example of FAU being stricter than most schools, the forgiveness policy, he said, “When it’s not convenient to be like Florida International, when they’re more lenient, you want to be more conservative.

“You can’t have those double standards. This nitpicking of policies is not grounds to change,” Paez added.

FIU allows students to retake up to four classes with their forgiveness policy, while FAU only allows students to retake two.

‘Give us a compromise’

“Why not give us two or three weeks, that was our question. They couldn’t answer us,” Parker said. “We’ve been begging. Give us an opportunity. Give us a compromise. We would take a week, a day, just give us something to show you care and understand us.”

Paez thinks a grace period is needed for students to adapt to classes — especially for freshmen, he said.

“The first week, you need to take care of your financial aid, pay for classes, find out where your classes are, buy books, plus buy a parking decal. It takes more than a week to do all that.

“If you give students one week or two weeks, they won’t have a major exam. It’s not about grade shopping then – it would just be the university is giving student more time to get everything together,” Paez said.

Ws won’t affect your GPA, but there can be repercussions of receiving them.

“If you’re going to go to a professional school, like law school, medical school, or even just grad school, the number of Ws on your transcript will affect your chances for admission,” Paez said.

Parker and Ross are trying to get that message across to students. “Let’s plan more Breezeway days to let students know,” Parker said to Ross during an interview with the UP.

“Our biggest motivation is to make students aware.”