The University of Oklahoma (Norman campus)
Regular session – November 13, 2006 – 3:30 p.m. – Jacobson Faculty Hall 102
office: Jacobson Faculty Hall 206   phone: 325-6789
e-mail:   web site:


The Faculty Senate was called to order by Professor Roger Frech, Chair.


PRESENT:       Albert, Badhwar, Basic, D. Bemben, M. Bemben, Benson, Blank, Bradford, Brown, Brule, Civan, Cramer, Croft, Draheim, Elisens, Fincke, Forman, Franklin, Frech, Gade, Ge, Gutierrez, Hamerla, Houser, James, Knapp, Kutner, Lai, Lester, Magnusson, Marcus-Mendoza, Miranda, Raadschelders, Rambo, Scamehorn, Schwarzkopf, Strawn, Tan, Thulasiraman, Trytten, Vitt, Warnken, Weaver, Wei, Wyckoff

Provost's office representative:  Jorgenson
ISA representatives:  Cook

ABSENT:         Biggerstaff, Greene, Keppel, Kolar, Livesey, Riggs, Roche, Skeeters





Announcement:  faculty enrichment grant resolution of appreciation

Grading Scale

Senate Chair's Report:

Library serials review

Health benefits: consultant, study panel, online enrollment

Classroom/facility problems






The Faculty Senate Journal for the regular session of October 9, 2006 was approved.





President Boren “received with appreciation” the resolution of appreciation for the faculty enrichment grant approved by the Faculty Senate on October 10.





Prof. Frech explained that he had invited Prof. Joe Rodgers (Psychology), chair of the task force that is looking into the possibility of changing the grading scale, to give an overview of the systems used by other universities and to talk about advantages and disadvantages.  Other members of the task force include Cheryl Jorgenson, Director of Institutional Research; Patricia Lynch, Director of Admissions; Richard Skeel, Director of Academic Records; faculty members Louis Ederington (Finance) and Mike McInerney (Botany & Microbiology); and students Kyle Abbott (Graduate Student Senate) and Matthew Burris, Chair of the UOSA Academic Affairs Committee.  In view of the importance of a possible change in the grading scale, the Executive Committee thought it would be useful for the Senate to hear a presentation from Prof. Rodgers and then make comments sufficiently early in the deliberations.  The recommendation of the task force will come to the Senate for approval and then to the general faculty. 


Prof. Rodgers said the task force was in data collection mode right now.  Early on in the process, the members planned to survey relevant constituencies before deciding what they believed about the grading system.  Six student leaders, four undergraduates and two graduate students, met with the task force on November 7.  Informal exchanges through email are going on all over campus.  This is a domain in which there is a lot of passion and interest.  The task force is trying to maintain neutrality and to be open to all ideas. 


This initiative sprang from the Faculty Senate and Provost’s office as a joint effort.  With the revamping of the student record system, it is a good time to consider changes in the grading system.  In the 1980s, the Faculty Senate approved an expanded scale, but it was not implemented because of the cost.  Mr. Skeel expects the new system to be more flexible in its ability to handle the grading system.  He has said several times that the system should not drive the policy.  A new member, Prof. Karl Sievers (Music), was recently added to the task force to provide representation from humanities and fine arts.  Now the task force has nine members:  four faculty, three administrators and two students.  Its first meeting was September 26; November 14 will be its seventh meeting.  Faculty members are evaluating the system through their chairs and directors.  The task force provided the units with an information sheet and a survey (  Articles and an editorial have appeared in the student paper.  UOSA passed a resolution recently stating an opinion on behalf of the student body.  Using Google, Prof. Rodgers searched for “plus/minus” to find web sites developed by other universities.  Many universities recently have or are currently evaluating whether to implement a plus/minus grading system.  A few have had an expanded system and have gone back to a regular system.  The task force is not going to find the “right” way.  It has not had to do much surveying of other universities because of the information available online.  In particular, the Truman State University website is a clearing house for information on the plus/minus grading system.  The goal of the task force members is to formulate a fairly clear plan of where they want to go by the end of the semester.  If the recommendation is to change the grading scale, there is a complex system of possible plus/minus grading schemes.  He distributed a handout, “Points of Information and Discussion Questions” (available from the Senate office), which was prepared for the November 7 student forum.  Prof. Rodgers went over the charge to the task force (  The task force is accountable to the Faculty Senate.  Its goal is to get a proposal to the Faculty Senate by January.  Number two of the charge -- assisting in transition -- would be conditional on proposing that changing the grading system would be appropriate.


Prof. Rodgers summarized the grading procedures at the Big 12 universities (  Eight have some form of plus/minus grading, with five being a pure form; that is, that is all the system they have.  Seven have some form of regular grading, with four (Kansas State, Texas A&M, OU, OSU) being pure.  Within Oklahoma, partly mandated by policies from the state regents, we have only regular grading.  Any change would probably require approval by the state regents.  Baylor has only a plus system.  Missouri has a plus/minus system at the undergraduate level and a regular system at the graduate level; Texas is the opposite.  At Kansas some programs have a plus/minus system, and some have a regular grading system.  Nebraska’s website documents the implementation of the system over the last five years.  Texas A&M is considering whether to change to a plus/minus system.  Baylor, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Colorado and Nebraska have the pure forms of the plus/minus system.  The Big 12 is a microcosm of what is going on at the national level.  Georgia has a task force looking at the issue.  New Mexico State and Arizona State are implementing a change to a new plus/minus system.


Some universities have evaluated what happens to student grades and faculty behavior when a university adds a plus/minus grading system.  Simulations say about the same thing as the empirical data.  Maryland and Clemson are unique in their approach because they implemented the system at the recording level.  They allowed some time to implement the system without any implications for the computation of student grade point averages.  In other words, professors assigned pluses and minuses, and they were written on the transcript, but the regular grading was used to compute the GPA.  Some national boards, such as MCAT, LSAT, and GRE, standardize the differences between grading scales.  There is some disadvantage to using an A+, then, because A+ would be treated as a 4.3, and a 4.0 would be re-standardized down.  Students believe that under a plus/minus system their grade point averages will go down.  Across the country, GPAs have hardly budged, especially in the short term.  Students whose GPAs are slightly affected are at the very top.  Because most systems do not have an A+, an A- would be the only direction that someone with a 4.0 could go.  About 30-50 percent of the 4.0 GPAs remain, but the majority of the 4.0 GPAs turn into 3.9x because a sprinkling of A-s show up.  Students do not like that.  Faculty members typically do not have a problem with that since they believe the decision in grading is an okay thing to do.  One of the challenges of the task force is to balance the typical faculty opinion against the typical student opinion.  GPAs do not budge much because of a balancing dynamic.  When a university switches to a plus/minus grading system, the faculty typically uses more minuses than pluses, which sends the grades down slightly.  The other dynamic is as professors give more minuses, they also give more of the higher grades, which moves the grades upward.  At most universities this is a compensatory process, and that is why grades do not go down much except for students at the very top. 


Prof. Rodgers ended by saying, if we do make changes, they could be minor and trivial or major and fundamental, and there are many options.  For instance, should we have an A+?  Almost all universities recommend against it.  An A+ could exist on the transcript but not in the computation.  Another choice is how the pluses and minuses are mapped into the points on the grading scale.  Some students complain that the faculty tightens its standards with the implementation of the plus/minus system and that scholarships could be lost.  At one university, it was estimated that about one-half of one percent of the students would not have graduated under the new system.  The value of pluses and minuses can vary.  Some universities end the plus/minus at C.  Other universities use tenths of points (quantitative) rather than letter grades.  It would make it somewhat difficult to challenge the state regents’ standards if we went with an A+ since they cap GPAs at 4.0.  The regular system has strong student support. 


Prof. M. Bemben asked if the task force had given any thought to reporting what the percent was and letting people decide the letter grade.  Prof. Rodgers said that was not done much in the U.S.  Students are resistant to further fine tuning.  The task force has not looked at percentages.  Prof. Bemben pointed out that students recognize a percent score.  At least on the transcript, someone who was evaluating a student could see if a B, for example, was strong or weak, even though it was recorded as a 3.0. 


Prof. Marcus-Mendoza said about three-fourths of the faculty in her unit were in favor of the plus/minus system.  They were greatly in favor of an A+ but did not know how an A+ would work in the system.  Prof. Rodgers said about 20 departments had met and sent information to the task force.  Most favor changing, but at least four or five do not want to change. 


Prof. Magnusson noted that an A+ could count for more on the individual grade, but the cumulative GPA could be capped at 4.0.  She said she thought there was a pedagogical difference between the grade scales.  Students have a good idea what their grade is about three-fourths of the way through the semester, and then they coast.  A plus/minus system could give them an incentive to keep working hard.  Prof. Rodgers said some schools do count an A+ but cap it at 4.0.  The students at the forum said the most important issue was which system led to better student learning.  Prof. Houser asked if the departments that responded had a preference concerning an A+.  Prof. Rodgers said that was not one of the discussion points on the survey.  A couple had mentioned the possibility of using an A+ without numerical implications.  Both students and faculty seem to like the idea, though. 


Prof. Hamerla said his department was overwhelmingly in favor of the plus/minus system if for no other reason than grade inflation.  Faculty members are not able to express the difference between a 99 and a 90 under a regular grading system.  Prof. Rodgers replied that many faculty members like the plus/minus system because it includes the regular system with the special case within it, and that provides flexibility.  They can choose to use the regular system and state that on their syllabus.  Those who think their grading is precise enough to justify pluses and minuses have that as a method.  Prof. Rambo remarked that if the professor gave regular grades, it would disadvantage some students because it would look as though a student with an 89 had actually made an average B.  Prof. Rodgers responded that the current grading system has that same problem because many professors do not use Ds and Fs and others do.  Faculty variability in how to use the scales cannot be managed.


Prof. Vitt asked about the rationale for not using pluses and minuses in Ds and Fs.  Prof. Rodgers said the rationale given by other schools is they are not sure that the faculty effort is justified in distinguishing between a D+, D and D-.  Also, the students who are making a D may not be motivated to try to get a D+.  The grading scale was designed to be used across the whole breadth, but many professors do not use Fs and Ds in the same way that they use As and Bs. 


Prof. Schwarzkopf asked about the consequences on historical grades of going to a plus/minus system.  Prof. Rodgers said most universities make the change all at once, without implications for past grades.  It creates two to three years that are difficult for universities and students to handle and manage.  Transitional issues have been included in the charge to the task force.  Prof. Schwarzkopf asked how many categories people could reasonable evaluate.  Prof. Rodgers said the standard error of measurement was about two points within a 100 point grading system.  Most faculty members believe they can distinguish between 81 and 89, and yet both grades equal a B. 


Prof. Raadschelders commented that with absolute grading scales, professors grade each individual student rather than compare one student to another.  He asked to what degree grading scales were relevant, that is, grades were adjusted to the highest performer.  Prof. Rodgers explained that what he was referring to was the difference between criterion and norm referenced evaluation.  Criterion referenced evaluation means that everyone who jumps over a certain set of hurdles will get an A or B, and it is often used only in graduate classes.  In other settings, especially large undergraduate classes, the evaluation is closer to norm referenced, where norms are defined across many semesters.  Faculty members in the U.S. are empowered to make the grading decisions.  He said it was his belief that OU would be fine under either system.  What goes on at the individual classroom level is not going to be that radically affected by the choice of grading scales.  If we are not distinguishing between the performance of our students, then in a sense, we are not fully doing our job.  The biggest reason to stay with the current scale is, “If it’s not broken, why fix it?”  On the other hand, there are many good reasons why the plus/minus system could improve faculty members’ lives.


Prof. Trytten said a big disadvantage to the plus/minus system was the “whine” factor in borderline cases.  Anyone who is within a point will be in her office whining.  Prof. Blank asked whether there were any data on that subject.  Prof. Rodgers said the data do support the “whine” factor, based on the number of grade challenges and faculty reports of students coming to their offices.  Prof. Benson mentioned that the Faculty Senate had recommended a change to a plus/minus system in the past, so the faculty has thought it needed to be fixed.  He said he would prefer that the task force compare us with our actual peers, not an athletic conference.  Prof. Rodgers said he agreed.  The task force has surveys from other major public and private universities.  Prof. Fincke suggested that one other group that should be surveyed was parents.  It would be useful to parents to know if their child’s B was a B+, B or B-. 


Prof. Blank said he thought the Faculty Senate had recommended a trial implementation of the plus/minus system at the graduate level.  He asked whether the task force was considering a split grading system.  Prof. Rodgers said the task force had paid attention to the schools that had thoughtfully split their system.  Ms. Fallgatter, Senate coordinator, reported that the Faculty Senate had recommended an expanded scale in the late 1980s and later the Graduate College proposed a plus/minus system at the graduate level.  Prof. Rodgers said the information was good for the records, but we should not do it now because we did or did not do it before.  It is not relevant to the current discussion. 


Prof. Bemben asked about the points assigned in a plus/minus system.  Prof. Rodgers said the approaches vary.  What happens within the classroom is up to the faculty.  The way the faculty delivers grades and the university translates those is defined at the university level.  The modal approach is for an A- to be a 3.7 or 3.67 and for a B+ to be a 3.3 or 3.33.  One creates a bigger gap between pluses and minuses; the other keeps all intervals equal.  There was a brief discussion of the impact of a plus/minus system and an A+.  Prof. Gutierrez said he liked the idea of fine tuning grades, particularly in large classes.  An A+ distinguishes certain students.  Prof. Rodgers said he was taking notes and would give the task force a summary of the discussion.  Prof. Forman said he thought the legislature would look fondly on efforts to make more distinctions.  The law school already grades on a 12-point scale, with an A+ equal to 12. 



SENATE CHAIR'S REPORT, by Prof. Roger Frech


“Library Serials Review.  This Thursday, the Provost, Dean Sul Lee, Steve Bradford, Cecy Brown and I will meet to set up the task force that will carry out an extensive and far-reaching study of the library system for the next decade.  This study will stress that faculty must be involved at all stages of this process.


“Health benefits.  Several discussions have taken place between the Senate Executive Committee and the administration about concerns that were brought to our attention at the end of September.  Julius Hilburn (Director of Human Resources) and Nick Kelly (Assistant Director of Human Resources) have also been involved in discussions with members of the Executive Committee.  It was the Committee’s strong, unanimous recommendation that the University’s relationship with our current health care consultant firm be terminated.  This has now been done, and an RFP to hire new consultants has been issued by Human Resources.


“We have met with the President to discuss the scope and charge of the “Blue Ribbon” health care study panel.  The panel will have a number of tasks:

a. Gather and analyze information on which we can base our health care planning and decisions.  The object is to identify critical health benefit issues (both local and national) and gather the information necessary to address those issues.

b. Develop strategies for obtaining the best health care benefit options for faculty and staff.

c. Develop and implement local wellness programs, including education of faculty and staff.  The object is to become better-educated health care consumers.

The study panel will consist of several component groups, with its efforts coordinated by a Steering Committee.  The selection of the Steering Committee is now under way.  The work of the study panel will be integrated with Human Resources.


“Feedback for comments about the on-line health benefits enrollment should be sent to Nick Kelly,  Please be as specific as possible, particularly about glitches, problems and frustrations.


“Classroom/facility problems should be referred to the Classroom Renovation Committee.  Judy Stockdale (classroom scheduling manager) is on the committee and said that issues could be sent to her and she would put them on the agenda for the committee.  The website for the committee can be found on the Provost’s website (”





The meeting adjourned at 4:55 p.m.  The next regular session of the Faculty Senate will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, December 11, 2006, in Jacobson Faculty Hall 102.


Sonya Fallgatter, Administrative Coordinator


Cecelia Brown, Secretary