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November 22, 1999

Proposal to eliminate 'narratives' goes before Academic Senate

By Jim Burns

A petition signed by 170 members of the Academic Senate is recommending that the campus's Narrative Evaluation System be replaced by the conventional UC grading system. The full senate is scheduled to meet on Friday, December 3, at 3:30 p.m. in the campus's new Media Theater to consider a resolution that would do just that. (Located behind the Ticket Office, the Media Theater is also called room M110.)

"The Narrative Evaluation System has an honorable history, but times have changed and a new approach to grading is required," the petitioners said. "A new approach will help us to attract and retain students with strong academic records, to maintain the integrity of our curricula, and to communicate the quality of our students accurately and concisely to graduate and professional schools and prospective employers."

Specifically, the promoters of the change are asking that the following features of the University of California's grading system be implemented:

  • Grades A-F, including plus and minus suffixes for grades A-D.

  • An option for students to take up to one-third of total course units on a Pass/No Pass basis.

  • An option for departments to require that courses applied toward credit in a major be taken on a letter-grade basis.

  • Grade points per unit, assigned as A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, F=0. Minus grades would be assigned three-tenths grade point less per unit than unsuffixed grades; plus grades (except A+) would be assigned three-tenths grade point per unit.

In short, the proposal would make grades, currently an option that students can choose in addition to receiving narrative evaluations for each quarter's work, the backbone of UCSC's student evaluation system.

The changes outlined in the resolution would take effect on September 1, 2001. The Academic Senate currently lists 588 members, including emeriti faculty, who are eligible to vote on the resolution.

The December 3 meeting marks the third time this decade that UCSC's long-standing Narrative Evaluation System (NES) has been the subject of an Academic Senate debate. In an informational action intended to guide NES deliberations by the senate's Committee on Educational Policy, senate members participated in a spirited debate in June 1993 before voting to maintain NES in its present form.

In the fall of 1996, however, senate members voted by a two-to-one margin to permit new and continuing students to request letter grades for all classes, beginning in fall 1997. The change retained the NES, but enabled new students to accumulate a grade point average. During this past academic year, approximately one-third of UCSC's students requested grades.

Opponents of both the 1993 and 1996 proposals argued that the changes would erode UCSC's tradition of emphasizing learning over grades.

The December 3 meeting was called by Roger Anderson, chair, at the request of eighteen members of the senate; according to senate bylaws, a written request from at least ten members must be submitted before a special meeting can be called.

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