A new policy that sharply reduces the length of time Carolina undergraduates can drop courses has ignited a campuswide outcry, prompting students and administrators to join forces in an unusually vocal pushback.
The UNC System Board of Governors approved a policy earlier this year to shorten the drop period to 10 days; it had been eight weeks. Students who drop classes after that new deadline will receive a “W” on their transcripts, and the policy limits to four the number of withdrawals that undergraduates may accumulate over their college careers.
Opponents have until the policy takes effect in fall 2014 to press the board to repeal it. Already, a petition protesting the change has gathered about 8,000 signatures — nearly half of the undergraduate student body.
Supporters of the new policy back it as an attempt to bring uniformity to the UNC System, making it easier for students to transfer among the 17 campuses in the UNC System. But even administrators in Chapel Hill are denouncing it as bureaucratic overreach.
“It appears to me that this is homogeneity for the sake of homogeneity,” said Alston Gardner ’77, vice chair of the UNC Board of Trustees. “I don’t see any benefit for anyone in this other than it looks neat in some bureaucrat’s mind.
“It’s a total waste of time.”
Administrators worry that curtailing the drop period will discourage students from experimenting with tougher courses, knowing they could back away from classes by mid-semester without penalty.
Moreover, opponents say saddling students with withdrawals on their transcripts will make it harder for them to be accepted into graduate school. About 70 percent of Carolina students attend graduate school within 10 years of graduating, administrators said, citing a 2013 undergraduate alumni survey done by the College of Arts and Sciences.
“We’ve spoken to a number of graduate admissions offices who said they don’t want to see a ‘W’ on transcripts,” said student body President Christy Lambden.
Ron Strauss, Carolina’s executive vice provost, said Chapel Hill extended its drop period in 2004 to eight from six weeks. In 2010, it acknowledged the success of that strategy, noting that 94 percent of students completed their classes. In other words, only 6 percent dropped.
“We’re not worried about having empty classrooms. We’re worried about not having enough seats in our classrooms for student desires,” he said.
Joan Lorden, chair of the Academics First Workgroup, the body that suggested the policy to the Board of Governors, defended the change. She said it was one of many recommendations aimed at improving focus on education, student access and timely degree completion.
“As budgets in the UNC System were cut, there was also concern that students who were not going to complete courses were taking up seats and preventing others from getting access until too late in the term to be of any use,” said Lorden, who is provost at UNC-Charlotte.
Julie Poorman, director of financial aid at East Carolina University and a member of the work group, said the policy helps the institutions plan and use space.
“If they find the class hard, what’s the incentive for studying hard if they can get a get-out-of-jail free card like that?” Poorman said. “Drop it, don’t flunk it, is a good strategy for one class or two classes. It’s not a good strategy for more than that.”
But critics contend the work group, which does not include representation from Carolina, failed to account for the situation in terms of how many students actually drop classes at various institutions.
“It’s very, very risky to equate [Chapel Hill] with all the schools in the university system because many of them have very different realities,” Strauss said. “Carolina students are graduating at high rates, taking difficult courses and remaining in them.”
Lambden, the student body president, said the executive branch of student government is working closely with administration, the provost and the chancellor’s office to engage the Board of Governors in hope of overturning the policy.
“This is something that Carolina as a community is opposed to,” he said.