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Letter to the Editor: VP Academic on USRI responses

As your Students’ Union VP Academic, I have been representing students on the University of Calgary’s Universal Student Ratings of Instruction (USRI) Working Group. At each meeting, I have advocated for you and stressed to other members that students need and deserve a confidential reporting mechanism that can be used to provide honest and constructive feedback to their instructors. In order for USRIs to be effective for this purpose, feedback must be shared where it will have an impact on instructors, such as at meetings, deciding tenure and promotion or in discussions between an instructor and their department head or associate dean. 

For both the Fall and Winter terms in the 2020-2021 academic year, the University of Calgary chose to release USRI responses to course instructors only. Communications released by the university equated this to the implementation of a Completed Requirements (CR/F) option for students, who have also been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This was disappointing. This decision was deeply upsetting to myself and my fellow student representatives. The Students’ Union (SU) was not consulted or involved in the decision to withhold USRI responses from department heads and deans. Students deserve better than being overlooked when making such a decision. Student representatives were not given an opportunity to share concerns prior to the public release of this information. Further, this was not an item for discussion at the USRI Working Group. This decision was made outside this working group, and there is little public accountability for how this decision was made.

Our expectation is that the university involve students in all decision-making around USRIs. The university has failed to do this. 

In the Fall 2020 term, when students reached out to the SU with concerns, we encouraged all students to continue to share constructive feedback with all levels of administration within their faculty. If you have concerns about the quality of education you are receiving, and you do not feel comfortable communicating directly with your instructor, you can email your department head, associate dean and dean. Students should always feel welcome to copy your SU president, vice-president academic and faculty representatives on these emails, as well as the university’s provost and president. 

The University of Calgary has now launched an email account — studentfeedback@ucalgary.ca — that students can use to voice concerns about any aspect of their campus experience, and messages will be sent to the appropriate department or faculty as needed. The SU encourages all students to share feedback with the University and, again, to copy your SU representatives. This allows the SU to be better able to advocate for students and hold the University of Calgary accountable. 

At this time, however, we would still like to encourage students to fill out their USRIs and complete them to the best of their ability. Although the USRI will only be shared with your instructor, please know that most instructors do read their received USRIs and value your experience. 

The SU shares the frustrations felt by all students about how the situation surrounding USRIs has unfolded over the past year. Rest assured the SU continues to advocate on this issue and is prepared to continue to raise student concerns at the highest levels within the administration. 

-Semhar Abraha, 78th Vice-President Academic 

Letters to the Editor published in the Gauntlet‘s opinion section do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board. The Gauntlet retains the right to edit submissions for brevity and clarity.

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