Editorial: Simply suggesting testing accommodations isn’t enough to support struggling students
Sept. 14, 2020 3:47 p.m.
In a crisis, one might hope for decisive leadership from their university.
Shared governance is supposed to allow faculty to have agency over important academic matters. In the case of the Academic Senate, however, that agency is coming at the cost of academic accessibility.
In the winter, the Academic Senate suspended certain academic policies to give instructors the ability to change final exam arrangements – or cancel them altogether – in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And in the spring, the Senate relaxed yet another policy, giving students extra flexibility to take classes on a pass/no pass basis and change their grading scheme until the end of week 10.
However, relaxed regulations do not compel departments or professors to comply. Testing accommodations vary, and not always for the better. Certain instructors have refused to make accommodations for technical difficulties, going so far as to ask students to stop their roommates from using the internet during an online final.
At such a crucial moment as this, it is not enough for the university to simply allow additional flexibility or provide recommendations. Equitable regulations and accommodations need to be standardized, universitywide and enforced.
The Undergraduate Students Association Council’s Academic Affairs Commission published a list of suggestions Tuesday for instructors that were established by the Senate. While commendable, these recommendations are just that – recommendations. They provide zero incentive for faculty to adhere to them.
Students must simultaneously navigate fall quarter, a global pandemic and various natural disasters ravaging the United States. Rolling blackouts and frequent power outages make online exams a continuous gamble. Not to mention, the record-shattering wildfires are driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Even for those in the relative security of Westwood, poor infrastructure and study space closures mean reliable internet is more a matter of luck than skill or effort.
All this to say, it is ignorant to assume Bruins have a conducive environment to take synchronous, timed examinations. The Academic Senate must do more to intervene when professors demand the impossible. Students deserve this at the very least.
To its credit, UCLA has introduced some limited programs to provide resources to students in need. The Bruin Tech Fund Grant offered undergraduates up to $1,000 to purchase essential devices. But it left out graduate students and expired April 1 with more grant applications than it could fulfill. Meanwhile, the Campus Library Instructional Computing Commons continues to loan laptops, internet hotspots and other equipment to students, albeit in limited supply.
However admirable, limited equipment loans are not the be-all and end-all when students are still forced to accommodate faculty who pretend it’s business as usual. There is no way to plan ahead for the exam – no excuses – when external factors have more control over students’ circumstances than they do.
‘Strongly encouraging’ certain actions does not make the Senate’s lukewarm suggestions any more impactful. Academic Senate – your students deserve better.