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  March 26, 2001

Senate Votes to Drop Upper and Lower Divisions

The University Senate last month agreed to abolish UConn's decades-old distinction between upper and lower divisions that requires undergraduates to maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average in the last 60 or so credits they earn at the University in order to graduate.

Acting on the recommendation of its Scholastic Standards Committee, the Senate voted to change the by-laws so that students must maintain a 2.0 GPA during their overall tenure at UConn, rather than only during what approximates their final two years.

Individual schools and colleges still may require a higher GPA for graduation.

"We felt there were just too many inconsistencies," said Gerald Gianutsos, an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences and chair of the committee.

"The definition (of upper division) was not synonymous with several other things at UConn," Gianutsos said. "Students may be juniors with 54 credits but not be in their upper division, and students who are in the upper division based on their number of credits don't necessarily qualify to be admitted to an upper division school."

Originally, he added, the committee began looking into the distinction between upper and lower divisions because the vagaries of the system were incompatible with PeopleSoft, the new student administrative system being installed at UConn. That incompatibility was primarily tied to the vague rules governing upper division work, which is defined as beginning "with the first semester following the semester in which a student has first accumulated 60 credits."

"The distinction here is really complicated" said Jeffrey von Munkwitz-Smith, university registrar.

"We see students finish a semester with 59 credits, then take 15 or 18 credits the next semester, so they're still considered lower division but they have 77 credits before they enter upper division," he said. "The PeopleSoft transcript can't calculate that. It's also a source of great confusion for students once they reach 60 credits.

"We really needed a simplification of the system," he added.

Requiring a minimum GPA at the upper division level for graduation was intended to ensure that students perform well in the subjects most relevant to their majors, and to help students who may struggle during the transition to UConn from high school by, essentially, giving them a second chance if they perform poorly during their first two years.

To maintain that ideal of "forgiveness," the Senate also changed the regulation regarding repeat courses so only the second, probably better, grade in a repeated course will count toward a student's overall GPA. Currently, both the initial and repeat grades are factored into an overall average.

Von Munkwitz-Smith, who researched various aspects of both the upper and lower division distinction and the rules regarding repeated courses, said abolishing the distinction without altering the forgiveness rules would result in a few dozen students a year falling short of the required 2.0. But once the new repeat statute is incorporated, the number drops to just a handful of students.

The new regulation, he said, "will help more students than it hurts. And it's certainly simpler to understand. It's good for the University if we have rules that students can understand, that faculty can understand, that advisors can understand."

Von Munkwitz-Smith added that he could find no other university that uses similar upper and lower division rules, although most do have an overall GPA requirement for graduation.

He also said the PeopleSoft academic advisor reporting system will be able to define groups of courses pertinent to specific majors, which many professors, especially those advising honors students, desire.

"I always look at the divisions to really see how students are doing at UConn," says Janine Caira, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and an honors advisor. "In the biologies, the students who enter the honors program have their most challenging courses in the upper division.

"I'm a little worried that we're doing things to make us compatible with PeopleSoft instead of adapting PeopleSoft to make it compatible with our needs," she said.

Caira added, however, that she would find the change acceptable, provided that the registrar's office retained the capability of providing information specific to the courses a student takes in his or her major. That, said Gianutsos, was an essential criterion for the committee's approval of the recommendation.

The Scholastic Standards Committee now must discuss when and how to implement the changes, since the course catalogue for the 2001-02 academic year is already being printed. Traditionally, academic changes do not take effect until after they appear in the catalogue, but some faculty would prefer not to wait. The committee, in consultation with others, will now begin discussing how the changes will be implemented.

Richard Veilleux