“Academic warning” to serve as a step between good standing and suspension

By Anna Mann

According to Associate Dean of the College Alexander Bruce (C’89), Sewanee’s faculty approved the creation an “academic warning” status as a step between “good standing” and “suspension” on April 5. The modifications to these academic standards will begin in Advent of the 2019-2020 school year.

Based on an academic progress press release, there are three main rationale for the changes. Firstly, to create an additional resource for poorly performing students in the hopes of directing them away from a “cycle of failure” perpetuated by the current system. This will allow students to consistently earn acceptable grades rather than scraping by.

Secondly, a warning semester will permit students to recover from a single poor semester without facing suspension. Thirdly, the committee sought to move toward a system of more consistent checkpoints for students’ GPA and hours earned.

Bruce explained that the Academic Standards Committee (ASC) began considering these changes near the end of the 2017-2018 academic year. Apparently, Sewanee is among the only institution amidst nearly 30 peer universities that do not have some sort of probationary step between good standing and suspension.

The press release states that the ASC considered the number of suspensions from the past few semesters and applied the proposed standards to find that “fewer students would be suspended after just one semester, but more after three semesters. Those facing suspension in that third semester will have been warned, however, so the outcome might have changed.”

With the academic warning in place, 40 students would have been placed on warning after Advent 2018. However, only 20 would have been in danger of suspension after Easter 2019. These numbers follow a logical pattern as according to Bruce, as many of those placed on warning would be first semester freshman who face an “adjustment period” after high school.

“To give someone more of a chance than less seems reasonable. However, it’s not an unlimited chance… We are hopeful that the warning process will help redirect students ahead of time. Students will have time to reevaluate what they want to do with their college experience,” said Bruce.

Additionally, the ASC spoke with Sewanee’s compliance officers for athletics in order to assure that students placed on warning would be unable to compete in NCAA competitions. The press released stated: “Our models showed that on average there would be six athletes declared ineligible for Easter semesters and only two for Advent semesters, so it’s not a widespread phenomenon. And perhaps the awareness of the implications of academic warning will provide additional incentive to athletes to be attentive to their grades.”

However, Bruce clarified that the data shows that the number of students affected by the changes would not result in any one sport losing too great a portion of their team, as the students that would theoretically have been placed on warning are spread between several different parties.

“The different push points will be that when students [are placed on warning] they will have to meet with one of the deans and their advisor to develop a plan about the following semester. We’re going to send letters of academic warning to the home address and that may change some conversations,” said Bruce about the possibility of this generating more student accountability.

Moreover, Bruce stressed that the changes may have a positive effect on retention rates. As an overwhelming amount of suspended students fail to return after their suspension ends. However, the grace period is expected to help with students that face only a single poor semester.

“If you get a triple zero GPA you’re going to be suspended,” stated Bruce. “But if it’s your worst semester ever, okay, as long as you have something we can work with you for another semester. Come back to who you are and recover from it.”