Faculty Discuss Cybersecurity, Covid-19 Protocols, and Revisions to Pass/Fail System


Jack P. Carroll ‘24

Managing Editor 

The faculty convened via Zoom on Monday, May 24, to discuss Trinity’s cybersecurity developments, Covid-19 protocols for in-person learning during the summer and fall, and pass/fail options for co-curricular and academic credits. 

Brownell Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Library and Information Technology Committee (LITC) Dan Lloyd announced Trinity’s plans to improve its cybersecurity by requiring faculty to adopt multi-factor authentication for their online accounts (e.g., email). Lloyd explained that using an authenticator app, multi-factor authentication can verify a user’s identity. Each time a user signs into one of their accounts, a passcode is texted to their phone. This passcode must then be used by its recipient to approve their login. 

Some faculty members in attendance questioned whether phones were needed for multi-factor authentication. One faculty member stated that she does not want to bring her cellphone into the classroom as she prohibits her students from bringing their own mobile devices. Responding to these questions and concerns, Associate Professor of Computer Science Ewa Syta noted that faculty can use a “device” or “token” to open their accounts instead of a text message. Syta added that faculty can receive the passcode needed to login to their accounts via a call to their office phone. 

Compared to other colleges and universities nationwide, Lloyd stated that Trinity is “behind the curve” in adopting multi-factor authentication, though he acknowledged that the College’s staff already use this security method. 

Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Sonia Cardenas spoke on behalf of President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney who did not appear at the meeting. Responding to questions about Trinity’s Covid-19 protocols for the fall, Cardenas indicated that a committee is currently working on the details of these plans and that related information would soon be released. 

When questioning Cardenas about mask requirements for the fall, one faculty member stated that–despite the Centers for Disease Control’s new guidelines that allow fully vaccinated individuals to umask while indoors–she would like to ask her students to wear masks inside the classroom. This faculty member cited the continued uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic and the spread of variants as the basis of her rationale. Expressing a similar sentiment, another faculty member shared concerns about the medical exemption criteria for students who choose not to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. The same professor stated that it would be important for students and faculty to know if someone in their classroom is not vaccinated. 

Regarding Trinity’s Covid-19 Protocols for summer courses, research, and laboratories, Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Associate Professor of Computer Science Takunari Miyazaki stated that the College is in the final stage of developing safety guidelines. Cardenas indicated that the College should have more details on summer guidance at the start of June. 

The faculty then discussed revisions to the pass/fail system. Associate Professor of Physics and Chair of the Curriculum Committee (CC) David Branning introduced a motion that would require all courses graded in a pass/fail format (including both academic and co-curricular courses) to be graded on a Distinction/Pass/Fail basis starting in the fall. Branning explained that the Distinction/Pass/Fail grading system would serve as the sole grading system for students who choose not to count academic and/or co-curricular credits towards their GPA. 

The pass/fail system is currently structured as follows: academic credits are graded on a Pass/Low-Pass/Fail basis and co-curricular credits are graded on a Distinction/Pass/Fail basis. Branning indicated that the CC’s motion to grade both academic and co-curricular credits on a Distinction/Pass/Fail basis would eliminate the structural differences between these two types of credits in the pass/fail system. Branning further explained that consistency in the pass/fail system would prevent confusion from students, faculty, and outside parties (e.g., employers, graduate programs) who may review a student’s transcript. 

Several faculty members in attendance expressed concerns about the CC’s motion. One faculty member wanted the low-pass grade to remain a part of the pass/fail system. This professor explained that (in her department) a low-pass is equivalent to a C- grade, and thus helped faculty determine whether a student met the minimum grade requirement to receive credit for their coursework at the end of the semester. 

Two faculty members were concerned that the Distinction grade would “diminish” and “erode” the purpose of the pass/fail system. Both professors stated that the pass/fail option should allow students to explore new subjects without having to worry about the final grade. However, under the CC’s new model, the professors anticipated that students would feel pressure to achieve the Distinction grade. One of the faculty members added that during a time of crisis (such as the pandemic) students should be able to focus on their mental health without having to worry about earning a top grade. 

Further debate among faculty ensued when the Low-Pass Amendment was proposed. If adopted, the amendment would add the Low-Pass grade into the Distinction/Pass/Fail system for both academic and co-curricular credits. One faculty member spoke out against the amendment stating that it would make the pass/fail option a four-level grading system that is “not very useful to the student.” The same professor explained that the amendment denies students the opportunity to conceal their actual grade on their transcripts. 

The Low-Pass Amendment was defeated in a 14 to 55 vote with 13 abstentions. In a decision unanimously approved by the faculty, Associate Professor of Economics and Faculty Secretary Mark Stater postponed discussion on the CC’s motion indefinitely.


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