Shelby Stanfield

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Bills proposed in the state House and Senate would require a class’s median or average grade be posted alongside a student’s individual score. 

Rep. Scott Turner (R-Frisco), the main proponent of HB 1196 — or what he calls the “Open Transcript Bill” — said in an email the bill would reveal grade inflation on college transcripts at Texas public universities and colleges. The policy would not be applicable to classes with 10 or fewer students. 

Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) filed an identical bill to Turner’s, SB 499. Her staff declined to comment.  

Turner said his bill would increase transparency in higher-education grading.

“Grade inflation is a serious problem among post-secondary universities, making it increasingly difficult for employers to evaluate potential candidates and nearly impossible for parents and students to determine the true value of their college investment,” Turner said in an email.

Some students, such as Edwin Qian, management information systems and economic senior, agree that posting the median or average grades on transcripts would work to prevent grade inflation at universities.

Qian said that while there are situations in which having the average or median grade could be detrimental, such as  receiving an ‘A’ when an ‘A’ was the average grade, having the class score present could be beneficial.  

“For students in programs such as computer science and engineering, where the courses are a little more challenging and difficult, they might want that on their transcript because it would show that the average of the course is actually a ‘C,’ but, guess what, I got the ‘A,’” Qian said.

Santiago Sanchez, Plan II and biochemistry junior, said he does not support the idea of showing average or median grades on transcripts. He said in some difficult classes in which the average grade is an ‘A,’ displaying the average would mislead others into thinking the class is easy.

“I just don’t think it would be helpful, and it could hurt people if that context gets misread or misunderstood,” Sanchez said.

UT astronomy professor Derek Wills said it would not be difficult for professors to include the class’ composite grade, even in large lecture classes. However, Shelby Stanfield, vice provost and registrar at the Office of the Registrar, said posting median grade averages to transcripts is not quite that simple on the administrative side.

According to Stanfield, to accommodate the legislation, many details would have to be worked out, including combined class grades across the  University.

Stanfield said some of these changes include rewriting the registrar software to determine the scores. He said they would also have to look at courses with multiple unique numbers within one course, such as a lecture course with labs.

“It gets real complicated because the way our curriculum is set, not simply every class is its own stand-alone entity,” Stanfield said.

Stanfield said it is unclear how the median grade would be interpreted in other states that don’t require the class scores on a transcript.

“We would want to make sure that in doing this we do it for the intents and purposes behind the legislation and not have any unintended consequences that would actually work to our students’ detriment,” Stanfield said.

In any given semester, a student’s class schedule will often include courses with varying degrees of difficulty and class work. Some classes just require more effort, more work and more time — though all classes count for a similar number of credit hours. Consequently, many students find themselves enrolled in courses that require them to be in class or in lab for far more time than is reflected on their transcripts. Why? Because the University insists on sticking to course measurements that do not fairly assess its classes’ time commitments or workload. This problem is not just students complaining about being in class longer than they want to be, but also students falling behind in their degree plan because of a bad academic policy.

“The general rule of thumb is any one hour that is given credit, that equates to one hour of meeting time per week over the course of the semester,” Vice Provost and registrar Shelby Stanfield said. “A three-hour course would meet for three hours a week, for a total of 45 hours a semester.”

As Stanfield explained, the faculty and curriculum committees within each college determine the credit hours warranted for each course based on this “rule of thumb.” 

The amount of work necessary for a single credit hour is determined by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, but Stanfield said that simply serves as a minimum for the number of course hours awarded. That means a faculty committee can allot three hours of credit even for a class that meets more than three hours a week.  

Andrew Clark, Senate of College Councils president, said the unfair credit system is a problem the Senate hears about often. 

“If you have a lab that gives you two hours’ worth of credit, but you’re consistently spending five hours a week in a lab, why shouldn’t you get something that accurately represents the amount of work that went into your project?” Clark said. “We commonly hear that from engineering and natural sciences students. It is certainly something the University should take a closer look at and be proactive on.”

Clark said the problem is felt most acutely in STEM courses, which often include lab sections with hands-on work. But the problem exists in courses from any college that require labs, studio time or discussion sections.

Studio art junior Haylie Weathersby said studio courses cause art students similar issues to the ones seen in the science labs.

“The studios are four-hour classes, twice a week, but you’re only getting credit for three hours,” Weathersby said. “There is only a couple of time slots from [8 a.m to 12 p.m.], 2-6 p.m. or sometimes even a 6-10 p.m., so you have to plan around your lunch break or work and the other required classes you need outside of art.”

Weathersby said the difficulty of getting the right classes at the right times in the day can be a problem for art students and can put them behind schedule. 

There is no question that hands-on work — whether it be in biology or ceramics — takes time. And certainly, not every course offered on campus should be limited to a three-hour time slot. But the University should understand that the extra in-class time required for a course should be reflected in credit toward a degree.

Michael Morton, former president of the Senate of College Councils, said that the Senate has tried to tackle this problem before but has had no success. 

“It’s an issue that is never going to be resolved unless you redid the entire curriculum or degree plans,” Morton said. “[Members of Senate of College Councils] had discussions about it with President [William Powers Jr.], provost [Steven] Leslie and at the time Vice Provost Gretchen Ritter, though everyone’s left, about how it would be implemented and how you could get a fair credit for class. In our discussions with Powers, he didn’t see it as an issue we could resolve and there were better issues to focus on for helping students with other hiccups in the actual degree plans.”

Morton said the simple solution of increasing the course credit label to the actual number of hours required — i.e., an intensive 3-credit-hour lab that actually takes up 8 hours of class time would become an 8-credit-hour class — doesn’t help if the degree plan also becomes more difficult to accomplish. Moreover, this solution bypasses addressing the problem of fair course credit assessment. 

Admittedly, restricting curriculum and redistributing course credit would be a massive overhaul for the University’s course catalog. But there’s no point in sticking to a flawed system just because it’s already there. 

Photo Credit: Alex Dolan | Daily Texan Staff

Chenxi Deng, a 22-year-old graduate of Peking University in Beijing, audited a UT course to stalk the student he would eventually stab in the face. According to the University’s course auditing policy, a jail cell is the only thing keeping Deng from auditing another course in the future. 

A non-UT student needs only an instructor’s signature, $20 and an open seat in a classroom to audit a course, according to Kim Taylor, spokeswoman for the Office of the Registrar. An auditor attends class but does not hand in papers, take part in discussions, receive evaluations or earn any credit.

Additionally, the Office of the Registrar does not keep electronic record of course auditors, according to Shelby Stanfield, vice provost for enrollment management and registrar. In that respect, previous auditors, such as Deng, could come back to audit more courses.

“There is no process that if somebody comes back and tries to audit a course that we would check that, or that they would be tagged in the system for us to deny them admittance,” Stanfield said.

Taylor said non-UT students are virtually unrestricted in the number of courses they can audit. In theory, Taylor said, someone could take a degree’s worth of courses for a fraction of the cost of tuition. Enrolled students can audit courses as well, but they need additional dean approval and are limited in the amount of courses they can audit.

The University’s course auditing program has been open to the general public and has remained largely unchanged since the early 1940s, according to Taylor. 

Stanfield said the auditing program will remain the same moving forward. 

“Auditing did not enable this individual,” Stanfield said. “If someone is going to do something bad, they’re going to do something bad. He could have sat outside the room or the building and watched her that way. It’s no different than [saying] the sidewalk allowed a bad person to walk across campus.” 

Derrick Mitchell, a radio-television-film and Persian language and literature senior, said he finds the lack of oversight on the University’s auditing policy to be weird.

“You should at least be a student or have some professional tie to the University to audit a course,” Mitchell said. “What’s the point of calling it a University if anyone can sit in a classroom?” 

Stanfield said course auditing is akin to other University resources provided to the general public, such as access to museums and sporting events, as well as the Tower observation deck or the Union Underground.

“Events on campus don’t require sign up,” Stanfield said. “Most buildings and facilities on campus are open to the public. In one respect, getting an instructor’s approval and paying a fee is more stringent than all the other public activities that take place on campus day in and day out.”

LaToya Hill, associate dean of Student Conduct and Emergency Services, said Deng’s actions would have met the criteria for permanent separation from UT and all other UT System institutions, but course auditors are not subject to University judicial policy because they are not technically students. 

Stanfield said auditing programs are common at other universities but noted he is not aware of other institutions’ procedures.

“I don’t think our auditing process is unique by any stretch of the imagination,” Stanfield said.

UTPD Sgt. Charles Bonnet said Deng and the victim were involved in a romantic relationship as undergraduates at Peking University, though the victim left China after graduation to pursue her master’s degree at UT. Deng was allegedly auditing a high-speed computer arithmetic course to stalk the victim and rekindle their past relationship.

Electrical engineering professor Earl Swartzlander, who presumably granted Deng access to his classroom, could not be reached for comment.

Marty Qureshi of the University Health Center holds up a vial of the Meningitis vaccine. The Texas Legislature recently passed a law requiring all students to be vaccinated against meningitis, not just those living on campus.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

 A state law will require students new to the 40 Acres this spring to have received meningitis vaccines before the start of the semester.

The law, passed in May, requires all students entering an institution of higher education from 2012 on to be vaccinated for meningococcal disease, also known as meningitis, within at least five years before entering the institution. First-year college students, students transferring to a new university and those returning from a semester abroad or other leave are required to present evidence of their vaccination before the first class day of the semester in which they plan to enroll. The law exempts students returning for concurrent semesters, students age 30 or older and students only enrolled in distance education courses.

According to an informational pamphlet distributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chances of contracting meningitis are more prevalent in crowded spaces, such as college dormitories. The disease is transmitted through human contact. It infects the meninges, the protective covering of the brain and spinal chord, and can also cause blood infections. Meningitis can be prevented with the vaccine or treated with antibiotics, but the CDC pamphlet states 10 to 15 percent of those infected will die and another 11 to 19 percent will endure limb loss, nervous system defects, deafness, slowed brain functions, seizures or strokes.

“Meningitis is dangerous because it progresses very rapidly,” said Sherry Bell, University Health Services consumer education and outreach coordinator. “An individual can be well one day and very ill or dead the next.”

UT administrative officials have formed an implementation team to ensure that new and returning students targeted by the law are vaccinated and file documentation with the University, registrar and vice provost Shelby Stanfield said. Stanfield said the team is composed of staff from the offices of the registrar, admissions, legal affairs and University Health Services.

“A student has to be in compliance with the law before they can enroll,” Stanfield said. “The student, once admitted, will be barred from registration unless their vaccine records are submitted. They cannot attend classes until the bar is lifted.”

The meningitis vaccine is available by appointment with UHS, at private doctors offices and minor emergency clinics.

Brent Burkhardt, CVS Minute Clinic spokesman, said the nationwide pharmacy has increased supply of the vaccine in anticipation of the recent mandate. Customers seeking influenza vaccines sometimes find it easy to receive both immunizations at once, Burkhardt said.

“We saw a lot of students in need of the vaccine come in over the Thanksgiving break,” Burkhardt said. “We do expect locations to get more busy, as we have a lot of locations close to college campuses.”

Printed on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 as: Entering students required to receive meningitis vaccine

The U.S. Department of Education hopes to increase the success of higher education institutions by opening student records to specified agencies.

The department announced several changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which it says will still safeguard student privacy while sharing school data for research purposes.

Under FERPA as it was previously written, states were only allowed to share students’ educational records with written consent. Obtaining student consent often hindered the accuracy and efficiency of state and federal data collection, said UT registrar Shelby Stanfield. States will no longer need student consent once the guidelines are in effect.

“Logistically, you can’t gather individual consent from all these students to gather some of the useful information, such as the number of hours the student is taking or the extracurricular activities the student is involved in,” Stanfield said.

The information is important for creating a more seamless picture of statewide educational success, especially among higher learning institutions, he said. For instance, if a student were to enroll at a college but drop out, there is no way of knowing whether that student completed his or her education at a different institution. A goal is to create such a system, he said.

“There’s been a significant movement over past years to create an integrated state education database,” he said. “The interest is to be able to look at overall state effectiveness versus by an individual, institution-to-institution basis.”

This goal isn’t new and neither is the release of information to third-party agencies, Stanfield said. He said the University already shares semester enrollments and demographics with the Higher Education Coordinating Board so they can see what students are taking certain classes.

“My guess is, the provisions would allow for an extension of that,” he said.

Students aren’t likely to be affected by the changes because the goal is to create a general overview of the system’s effectiveness and not base it on individual students, Stanfield said.

“I don’t think students will notice,” Stanfield said. “They designed the system to protect student privacy, and I don’t see how that will change after the provisions.”

Still, ensuring protection of student privacy — the reason for FERPA’s creation in 1974 — remains a concern for the government. The education department issued a statement saying states will have clearer rights concerning the collection of data, but privacy will increase with the new provisions.

“Data should only be shared with the right people for the right reasons,” said secretary of education Arne Duncan in the statement. “We need common-sense rules that strengthen privacy protections and allow for meaningful uses of data.”

The new student privacy initiatives include the implementation of a chief privacy officer, who will help designate which agencies are able to collect and manage personal information. The screening process will aid states in creating a directory of third-party agencies, limiting access to student records only to those approved by the state and federal governments.

The lack of control over the release of information bothers economics sophomore Sarah Alfadda.

“I don’t know how comfortable I feel about having my [gpa] released without my knowledge,” Alfadda said. “It’s sort of sacred information.”