Skip to main content

Meeting of the Faculty Council

Friday, October 9, 2009
3:00 p.m.
Hitchcock Multipurpose Room
Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History

Chancellor Holden Thorp and
Professor McKay Coble, Chair of the Faculty, presiding


3:00    Chancellor’s Remarks and Question Period

  • Chancellor Holden Thorp

3:05    Provost’s Remarks and Question Period

  • Interim Provost Bruce Carney

3:10    Information Security Policies

3:40    Annual Reports: Faculty Athletics Committee and Faculty Athletics Representative

4:00    Discussion and Action: Policy Approaches for Addressing Grade Inflation, Grade Compression, and Grade Inequality

4:50    Closed Session: Honorary Degrees and Special Awards Committee Report

  • Prof. Joseph Ferrell, Secretary of the Faculty

4:55    Adjourn


The Faculty Council of the University  of North Carolina at Chapel Hill convened at 3:00 p.m. in the Hitchcock Multipurpose Room of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.

The following 53 members of the Council attended: Anderson, Andrews, Bagnell, Binotti, C. Brown, J. Brown, P. Brown, DeSaix, Earp, Egan, Gerhardt, Gilliland, Greene, Guskiewicz, Halloran, Harnett, Hayslett, Irons, Janken, Katznelson, Kelly, Koomen, Koroluk, Lee, Lopez, Lothspeich, Maffly-Kipp, Mauro, McMillan, Melamut, Morse, New, O’Connell-Edwards, Papanikolas, Paquette, Paul, Persky, Quinonez, Richardson, Schoenfisch, Shea,  Shields, Stearns, Stein, Sweeney, Sweet, Szypszak, Thrailkill, Tisdale, Toews, Troster, Wallace, and Williams.

The following 27 members were granted excused  absences: Aaron, Bechtel, Bickford, Blackburn, Blocher, Bloom, Bowdish, Brice,  Cornell, Dilworth-Anderson, Ernst, Fuchs-Lokensgard, Gerber, Gulledge, Heenan, Kendall, Kramer, Montmeny, Morris-Natschke, Owen, Renner, Rhodes, Rodgers, Sheldon, Thorp, Tobin, and Van Tilburg.

The following 7 members were absent without excuse: Blalock, Catellier, Coleman, Hodges, Stotts, Verkerk, and  Yankaskas.

Call to Order

Chair of the Faculty McKay Coble called the meeting to order promptly at 3:00 p.m.

Chancellor’s Remarks and Question Period

Chancellor Holden Thorp reminded the Council of several upcoming events and yielded to questions. There were none.

Provost’s Remarks and Question Period

Interim Provost Bruce Carney yielded to questions. There were none.

Information Security Policies

[View Mr. Conrad’s PowerPoint presentation here.]

Vice Chancellor Larry Conrad briefed the Council on the ongoing development of policies for ensuring information security. He said that about a year ago, Information Technology Services developed a new security strategy for the campus. Our computer-based data is under massive and unrelenting attack every day by a world-wide community of hackers. Some are doing this in an attempt to steal information that they can use or sell; others do it simply for the challenge. The University needs to respond to these attacks by establishing policies designed to provide maximum protection of sensitive data without imposing undue  inconvenience on the user. He said that there are currently some 80,000 devices connected to the campus network.

Mr. Conrad said that the set of policies and standards about to be implemented are designed with three principle objectives in mind: (1) mitigate security risks; (2) meet external compliance obligations; and (3) meet data security standards established by the State of North Carolina. The policies cover seven areas: (1) information security standards, (2) general user passwords, (3) system administrator passwords, (4) transmission of sensitive information, (5) security liaison, (6) vulnerability management, and (7) incident management. He said that the policies most likely to be controversial are those involving encryption requirements for sensitive information and incident management. When a breach of data security occurs, there will be a $62 per hour charge to the responsible unit for incident management. When large numbers of people need to be contacted after a breach, the cost can easily run to $1 million or more.
In response to questions from Council members, Mr. Conrad made the following additional points:

  • He is available to respond to questions from Individual faculty members and departmental staff.
  • Data security will require good faith efforts by both users and the administration.
  • Vulnerability scan tools are available.
  • Faculty members who do not manage datasets should be sure that their computer operating systems are regularly updated and  that virus definitions are current at all times.

Prof. Coble asked about the timeline for implementation of the policies. Mr. Conrad said that they will be presented to the vice chancellors in the near future for final approval, and that he hopes all will be in place within this academic year.

Annual Report of the Faculty Athletics Committee

Prof. Steven Reznik, Chair of the Faculty Athletics Committee, presented the committee’s annual report. He said that faculty who  wish to address questions to the committee can do so by email to

Prof. Tim McMillan (African & Afro-American Studies) asked why so few student athletes participate in exit interviews. Mr. John  Blanchard, Senior Assoc. Director of Athletics, said that the results reported this year are not typical. He said that student response this year is closer to 100%.

Annual Report of the Faculty Athletic Representative

Prof. John Evans, Faculty Athletics Representative, presented his annual report. He spoke to academic performance data and explained the several metrics that are used. There were no questions.

Policy Approaches for Addressing Grade Inflation, Grade Compression, and Grade Inequality

View supporting materials for this discussion:

  • “Discussion of Grading Trends at UNC-CH: A Timeline” (compiled by Anne Whisnant)
  • “Grading Policy Options” (prepared by Andrew Perrin)

Prof. Andrew Perrin (Sociology), Chair of the Committee on Educational Policy, introduced for discussion the topic of policy approaches for addressing grade inflation, grade compression, and grade inequality. He said that grade inflation refers to the steady increase in the percentage of the grades A and B; grade compression refers to the decreasing ability to differentiate student performance as grades begin to cluster at the upper end of the scale; and grade inequality refers to differences in grading practices among different departments, different faculty in the same department, and different instructors in multiple sections of the same course.

Prof. Perrin briefly reviewed the ongoing studies of grading policy that the Educational Policy Committee has been conducting for over three decades. He said that the committee has now reached the point of identifying seven possible responses that the faculty might make to these studies:

  • Ration the number of each letter grade that an instructor or department may grant in each section of each course (a policy  followed by Princeton University).
  • Separate evaluation of student performance from teaching (a policy employed by Swarthmore College).
  • Report contextual information for each grade on  the student’s transcript (a policy used at Indiana University).
  • Provide a measure of accomplishment that is adjusted statistically for relative performance and “strength of schedule” for  cross-departmental ranking (i.e., the Achievement Index proposal rejected by the Council last year).
  • Prohibit comparison of student accomplishment across departments and instructors.
  • Initiate a university-wide discussion and  deliberation process on grade meaning and grading philosophy (an approach taken by Seton Hall University).
  • Watch and wait.

Prof. Perrin opened the floor for discussion.

An unidentified faculty member asserted that it should not be unexpected that grades rise as the quality of students being admitted rises. He said that he knows how to grade, and would not want to see his discretion in that regard restricted.

An unidentified faculty member from Economics suggested that the focus on grading policy is misplaced. He pointed out that an increasing  number of students are admitted with large amounts of Advanced Placement credit. As a result, it is possible for students to complete the requirements for a B.A. degree in as few as five semesters. He felt that this has degraded the value of the bachelor’s degree; that we are giving too much Advance Placement credit; and that the faculty should be concerned with preserving the  integrity of the B.A. degree, not grade inflation.

A graduate student from Sociology voiced the opinion that student expectations of receiving high grades adversely affect course evaluation. She said that teaching assistants are painfully aware of the fact that students who receive a lower grade than they expected are much more likely to complete a course evaluation form, usually negative, than those who received the high grade they expected.

Prof. Steven Reznik (Psychology) said that in his view the faculty must first decide what grades are intended to evaluate. Are we  attempting to measure mastery of the subject matter or to rank students comparatively?

Prof. John Sweeney (Journalism & Mass Communication) expressed surprise that 82% of all grades are either A or B. He said he was not especially inclined to be a stand-alone curmudgeon when it comes to grading. He thought that the rationing system in use at Princeton has merit.

Prof. Rebecca New (Education) urged the faculty to consider an aspect of grading that is often overlooked. She said that one purpose of giving grades is to give students feedback on their performance, and for the teacher to use that measure of performance as a means of evaluating his or her own success as a teacher.

Prof. Sally Stearns (Health Policy & Management) said that she had thought that the Achievement Index proposal recently rejected had merit. She asked for comment on what concerns led to rejection. Mr. David Bevevino, undergraduate student member of the Educational Policy Committee, replied that there was concern that high-performing students would be adversely affected, and that the measure would have fostered an increased atmosphere of competition among students.

Prof. Coble asked Mr. Bevevino whether students prefer any one of the seven alternatives identified by the committee. Mr. Bevevino said no.

Prof. Jean DeSaix (Biology) asked whether the committee had looked into whether the extension several years ago of the date for dropping a course had had an effect on grades. She suggested that a student’s anticipation of a low grade in the course might be a factor in dropping it.

In response to a question, several members of the Law School faculty explained the class ranking system in use there and the consequent effect on grading policy. Prof. Michael Gerhardt said that the Law School’s  grading system is designed to generate comparative data because law firms and others hiring law graduates use class rank as a major hiring criterion.

Prof. Cal Lee (Information & Library Science) asked how Carolina’s grading practices compare to peer institutions. Prof. Perrin  replied that we rank right in the middle of large public institutions with  respect to grade distribution.

Prof. Tim McMillan observed that the grades C and D are virtually non-existent today; therefore, we are really talking about gradations between B- and A+.
Prof. Laurie Maffly-Kipp (Religious Studies) said that in her view there is no absolute standard of reference for grading. She favored more conversation among the faculty about how to assign grades. She said that when she first joined the faculty she sought out senior faculty for advice on grading, but got no consistent answers.

Prof. Jane Thrailkill (English & Comparative Literature) observed that we are asking the Grade Point Average to represent at least three  different things: (1) to indicate accomplishment to the outside world, (2) to communicate to students what the faculty think of their work, and (3) to  encourage the faculty to communicate with each other about student performance in their departments. She pointed out that each academic discipline has its own culture, and that knowing about and understanding the cultures of other  disciplines is useful and perhaps challenging.

Mr. Steve Melamut (Law Library) asked whether there is any correlation between grade inflation and enrollment yield. He said that our current grading policy devalues grades significantly. He thought that the best way to achieve consistent grading from department to department is the system used at Princeton.

Prof. Diane Leonard (English & Comparative Literature) asked whether the Educational Policy Committee has graduate student grading policy within its purview. Prof. Perrin said it does not. Prof. Leonard said that the emphasis on time to degree has watered down the value of both undergraduate and graduate degrees. She thought that it would be well for the committee to take up analysis of graduate grades as well.

Prof. John Papanikolas (Chemistry) wondered what the average North Carolina citizen thinks when reading in the news that 85% of all grades at Carolina are either A or B.

Mr. Bevevino said that students would have concerns about any policy change that resulted in students seeking out courses they perceived to be easier.

At the conclusion of the discussion on grading policy, Prof. Perrin moved adoption of the following resolution:

Resolution 2009-4 Endorsing Educational Policy Committee Efforts to Investigate Grading Policy Reforms

“Whereas, the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) has been tracking grading practices since 2000; and

Whereas, concerns have been raised inside UNC and at other universities about the long-term meaning of grades; and

Whereas, several options have been presented for further consideration; now therefore

The Faculty Council resolves:

The Faculty Council endorses the EPC’s goal of investigating  specific options for grading policy reform during the 2009-10 academic year and  anticipates a policy proposal during the spring, 2010, semester.”

The resolution was adopted by voice vote with one dissent.

Special Report of the Committee on  Honorary Degrees and Special Awards: Award of an Honorary Degree to the 2010  Commencement Speaker

Prof. Joseph Ferrell, Secretary of the Faculty, moved that  the Council go into closed session for the purpose of discussing the award of an honorary degree.

The motion was adopted.

In closed session, Prof. Ferrell nominated for an honorary degree the person who has agreed to deliver the Commencement Address at the 2010 May Commencement. The Council approved the nomination for transmittal to the Board of Trustees.

Prof. Ferrell moved that the Council return to open session. The motion was adopted.


Its business having been completed, the Council adjourned at 4:45 p.m.

Joseph S. Ferrell
Secretary of the Faculty

Print Friendly, PDF & Email