‘X’ Grades and Financial Aid: The Facts of the Matter

The latest communication from the University administration on the issue of the 'X' grade and financial aid eligibility is confusing.  The suggested threats to aid eligibility as a result of using such grades are vague, though the communication implies that they are beyond the control of the University and a consequence of federal regulations. The policies online seem clear both about the use of the “X” grade and its relation to financial aid eligibility.

Federal Aid policies require that institutions develop a set of eligibility requirements that meet certain standards (which the UO policies apparently do). They also specify processes for reviewing eligibility on a regular basis and making a determination about Student Academic Progress (SAP) (see http://ifap.ed.gov/fsahandbook/attachments/1415FSAHbkVol4Ch3.pdf). Under the UO policy, “X” grades are treated as “non-passing” grades and these do not count toward SAP. The concern expressed by the administration is that “X” grades could affect a student’s academic progress. According to the Federal guidelines, reviews of SAP (for programs lasting more than one year) may take place annually at the end of a financial aid pay period (though they may take place more frequently). The specific UO review policy is not included in the public Financial Aid website. However, federal regulations permit institutions to place students who are determined not to be making satisfactory progress on financial aid warning for one term. Students may then demonstrate satisfactory progress according to the institution’s standards. Students who lose financial aid eligibility may appeal: “When a student loses FSA eligibility because he [sic] failed to make satisfactory progress, if the school permits appeals, he may appeal that result on the basis of: his injury or illness, the death of a relative, or other special circumstances. His appeal must explain why he failed to make satisfactory progress and what has changed in his situation that will allow him to make satisfactory progress at the next evaluation.” The UO apparently allows appeals (and in the case of “X” grades apparently routinely responds to them by asking students to prove “participation”). Under the present circumstances, awarding hundreds or thousands of “X” grades would lead to a daunting number of appeals, but such appeals appear to be possible under current UO policies and federal regulations.

The financial aid system is complex and it is possible that UO financial aid professionals could provide additional information about the use of “X” grades, eligibility, appeals, and so on, that would lead to different conclusions. However, given the federal regulations regarding student financial aid eligibility, it appears that the University administration, through the financial aid office, is primarily responsible for determining eligibility and providing a system of appeal for responding to special circumstances. Existing UO policies and federal regulations then would appear to make the use of “X” grades a “viable” (though potentially time- and resource-consuming) option.

The financial aid system is about access to higher education and depends upon transparency, with clear enforceable rules and appeal processes to ensure that the system serves the needs of our students. It is important that communications on these matters are clear and consistent. It is important that the University administration take seriously their responsibilities in the present situation and make sure that our students (graduate and undergraduate) are the central concern.


Confusion as a Strike-Breaking Tactic

“Provide students with the following options:

  • Forgo the final and take the grade they had going into the final.
  • Take the final, but receive an “X” (missing grade), until such time that finals can be graded”

-Academic Affairs, early November, 2014

“In cases where there is not sufficient information to assign a final grade, the X grade will need to be used and the impacts of those grade will need to be addressed on a case by case basis.”
-Academic Continuity Plan, November 14, 2014

“Is an X grade a viable strategy during the strike? No. The registrar’s office places an X in a student’s record when no grade is recorded by the instructor. In earlier stages of preparation, we believed that X grades might be a viable solution; however, upon further investigation with the registrar and financial aid staff, we determined that that is not the case.”
-Academic Affairs, November 21, 2014

During a strike situation, sowing confusion is a tactic that employers typically use to redirect anger at a union for disrupting the normally placid workplace. It appears our administration has chosen to deploy this tactic in their conflict with the GTFF. Despite knowing since last May that a GTF strike is a real possibility, the administration, at this late date, still cannot answer the basic question of how grading will be handled if the GTFs are not at work during finals. After a month of telling the campus the ‘X’ grade is the best option, suddenly the administration has announced that it is not a viable option, but have offered in its place “solutions” that verge on educational malpractice and that threaten the professional integrity of many of our colleagues. Combined with the late and dubious claim that any grade other than a standard letter grade might cause undergraduates difficulties, they are clearly hoping frustrated faculty will decide to go ahead and volunteer to grade papers, projects, and finals.

It is unfortunate that the administration has chosen to pursue a strategy that puts faculty in the middle of this situation. The campus is caught up in confrontation and brinksmanship. Regardless of where anyone stands on the issues between the GTFF and the administration, we all have right to expect our administration to provide creative leadership in these difficult times. We are not getting this leadership from our colleagues in Johnson Hall. Instead, it seems leadership of the strike planning and this larger confrontation has been placed into the hands of an “Academic Continuity Team.” To date, the Academic Continuity Team has pressured department heads and program directors to enlist their faculty in the fight against the GTFF. They have announced plans to dilute and degrade our academic standards. And they have chosen to use faculty as their primary strike-breaking weapon.

Again, we believe these actions are as deliberate as they are regrettable. Evidently, the administration decisions have put the faculty in the middle of this conflict, problematizing our relationship with our graduate students. This is unacceptable.

We call on our colleagues in Johnson Hall to provide creative leadership by doing what it takes to resolve the conflict. The administration team has consistently said that they are rejecting the GTFF proposals on principle. We do not understand how the principle of denying GTFs paid leave can be more important to them than ensuring that our students’ performance is evaluated fully and appropriately, not by “assistants,” but by the professors and graduate fellows who know them and their work best.

Finding ourselves in this lamentable middle-ground position, United Academics is ready to work with both parties to find a reasonable solution to this stand-off. We believe that there is a solution to be found and that no problem is so intractable that it cannot be resolved. We invite both sides to contact President Michael Dreiling if they are ready and willing to explore a compromise that will ensure that our campus moves on peacefully and harmoniously. We will keep you updated on these efforts.


AAUP Statement on University Senate Resolution and GTFF Strike

Statement from AAUP President Rudy Fichtenbaum

The AAUP commends the University of Oregon faculty senate on their stand against the administration’s attempt to subvert faculty governance and weaken academic standards as means to undermine the potential GTFF strike.

In the 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, AAUP affirms that the faculty “has primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process.” This standard is reaffirmed in the University of Oregon’s Constitution. Decisions related to these fundamental academic areas must involve the faculty, through the appropriate shared governance body, and we commend the faculty senate for demanding that the administration adhere to these professional standards.

The university administration’s attempt to circumvent the shared governance process in order to break a potential strike by the graduate employees makes their action all the more troubling. AAUP has long recognized academic unionization as both a fundamental right and an effective means of furthering AAUP’s core principles of academic freedom, due process, and economic security for all academic workers. We stand in solidarity with the GTFF and call on the administration to return to the table and to negotiate in good faith.

General Membership Meeting a Success!

packing them inLast Wednesday, United Academics members crowded into the Ford Alumni Center for our quarterly General Membership Meeting.

After spending a half-hour socializing, filling up at the burrito bar, and enjoying quality Oregon-based wine and beers, the members got down to business.


dreilingPresident Michael Dreiling welcomed the faculty and special guests to the meeting.

AFT-Oregon President David Rives updated the members on the several issues facing us on a state level, including the opportunities we now have after the Democrats solidified their hold on the statehouse. Susan Miller from AFT-Oregon reminded everyone of the AFT and AFT-Oregon benefits packages that all full members of the union can access and encouraged people to contact her susanm[at]aft-oregon[dot]org.

Joe Henry, President of the GTFF, spoke to the members about their bargaining struggles and their upcoming strike. He invited all members of campus to a labor rally in front of Johnson Hall at 11:30 am on Wednesday, November 12. Please plan to attend the rally if at all possible, the GTFF needs to show the administration the campus stands behind them.

mauerOur old friend from the AAUP, Mike Mauer, addressed the crowd about the goings on at AAUP. The AAUP has authorized an investigating team to visit UIUC to investigate, for possible censure, in the Prof. Stephen Salaita case. The AAUP and the AFT have begun negotiations for a 1st contract for the NTTF at UIUC, and we are jointly organizing the TT (the faculty at UIUC are in two separate bargaining units, as required by state law). He also reminded the members to check out the latest Academe that has an article by our very own Ron Bramhall.

olson The Chairs of the our committees gave updates on their actions over the summer. While all the updates were packed with information, the highlight was most assuredly Bill Harbaugh's announcement that we have successfully concluded our first audit. Each year, all AFT Locals with more than 1000 bargaining unit members (that's us), are requiredto undergo an outside audit. Not only was our audit successful, but Bill assured us that there will be no need to raise dues for the foreseeable future.

Deborah Olson gave everyone an update on the bargaining platform and announced that we would soon sending all members a bargaining survey.beers

The meeting ended on time at 7 pm, but many faculty kept conversations going for another hour or so.

Quick Guide to NTTF Policy Development

Recently, department and unit heads received notification that faculty need to begin crafting workload policies for their unit. This will be a major project for faculty and is part of our ongoing efforts to develop and document policies on our campus. While it is true that college deans have the right give input to faculty-developed policies, their input is merely advisory in the beginning stages. After faculty in departments and units have developed policies internally, deans can modify the policies. If deans do modify faculty-developed policies, they are obligated to meet with faculty to explain their modifications. Provosts must also approve policies and there is an opportunity to restore any faculty-developed provisions that deans may have modified.

Your engagement and full participation in developing the policies for your unit is vital for robust shared governance, so all faculty are encouraged to show up and be heard on these issues. In addition to studying the CBA [Art. 17, Art 19], please see the United Academics guidelines for the NTTF policies.

Our guidelines are consistent with the CBA and reflect our commitment that all policies should reflect local program needs and requirements.


Each policy must address the professional responsibilities expectations for each NTTF classification and rank in each unit in the following areas:

  • Course load
  • Service expectations
  • Research, scholarship, and creative activity
  • Professional development related to teaching, research, and service
  • Undergraduate and graduate advising
  • Student contact and communication

Not all classifications or ranks will have expectations in all of these areas. The unit policy should note when there are no expectations for particular areas.


Each unit must develop written procedures and criteria for conducting contract renewal reviews and promotion.

  • Reviews are to ensure that faculty are meeting the standards of excellence and to help faculty grow as scholars, identify areas of strength and areas that need improvement.
  • Criteria for evaluation should be linked to the unit’s workload policy. Faculty cannot be evaluated for work that they were not assigned to do.
  • Criteria for promotion should provide a guide for departmental committee decisions on recommendations for promotion.

The CBA, guidelines from the Provost, input from Deans, and the guidelines from United Academics should all be consulted as you work on and deliberate each policy in the months ahead. Once again, feel free to contact United Academics and arrange for an officer or member of the contract implementation committee to visit your department and consult with faculty in your unit as you develop these policies. talk with UA small white border (1)

Fall 2014 General Membership Meeting

The Fall 2014 General Membership Meeting is on the horizon.

The meeting will take place on Wednesday, November 5th in the Ford Alumni Center. It will run from 5 to 7 pm, with the 5 to 5:30 window being when food and drink will be available. Please arrive early to get yourself situated and to ensure that the meeting starts on time. The business portion of the meeting will begin at 5:30.

There will be the traditional burrito bar available to sate your hunger and a range of tasty beverages to slake your thirst.

Like our previous meeting, we will provide a children’s play area with some toys, coloring implements, and blocks. Lots of blocks.

We anticipate presenting the bargaining platform, planning for a potential GTFF strike, and discussing the future of the university.

All full members of United Academics are invited to attend. If you have not yet joined as a member, you can learn how to so here or you can join at the meeting itself.