Students criticize math department COVID-19 accommodations

Photo of lecture hall with masked students
Gavin Sagastume/Staff
UC Berkeley’s math department is facing criticism from its students due to a lack of just and equitable COVID-19 accommodations amid a stressful finals week.

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As thousands of UC Berkeley students faced the terrifying prospect of finals week, a few were faced with an even more stressful prospect — receiving an incomplete grade for having COVID-19.

Multiple math professors told students they would have to attend their final in person or receive an incomplete grade and make up the final in a later semester, according to campus freshman Dani Ibarra. While her Math 16A professor offered a few accommodations for students who tested positive, Ibarra said they were “quite unrealistic.”

“The professor also said we could take the class as an Incomplete, but this was very unfair because a lot of students need this class to declare for their majors,” Ibarra said in an email. “Because of these very sad and poor accommodations, a lot of COVID-positive students were forced to take the exam in-person while unfortunately exposing their classmates.”

Ibarra said some students had the option to take a make-up exam a week after the semester ended. She added that this would be difficult for many students as they were required to move out of the dorms before the date of the make-up exam.

Another student, who remained anonymous out of fear of retaliation, criticized their professors for allegedly being unresponsive and unaccommodating in the days leading up to their final. While they tested negative in time to take their in-person final, they alleged that the lack of alternate finals forced students to take an in-person final whether they were sick or not.

“I emailed both of my professors for accommodations, and my math professor straight up told me that an incomplete is the only option, which reasonably made me angry,” the student said in an email. “The other professor did not respond until 2 days before the final.”

Victoria Lee, director of student services for the math department, said all instructors were advised to treat COVID-19 accommodations as they would any other illness. As a result, professors could offer remote proctoring or make-up exams to their students or give them an incomplete grade, which would force the student to retake the class.

Lee said offering incomplete grades was a “standard option” for students who are unable to complete a course because of a situation beyond their control. She added that some professors lacked the resources to administer remote exams and were concerned about equity issues with remote proctoring.

“I could tell my professor has good intentions and is a nice person,” Ibarra said in the email. “She didn’t want to offer an online alternative out of fairness because it is easier to use notes with online exams. This situation just sucked overall and I hope all professors can be better prepared for the following semesters.”

Contact Aditya Katewa at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @adkatewa1.