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UCR advisor helped eliminate “probation” from academic language

Recommendation from UC advising council adopted by Academic Senate

July 9, 2024
Author: Imran Ghori
July 9, 2024

The University of California has dropped the word “probation” from academic regulations – a change that a UC Riverside academic advisor helped push forward.

The UC Academic Senate voted overwhelmingly on June 21 to remove the term probation and replace it with academic notice to alert students when they are falling behind in their studies.

Brett McFarlane, director of the College of Natural and Agricultural Resources Sciences Undergraduate Academic Advising Center, worked with fellow advisors at partners UC campuses to make that change.

When he began his term as chair of the University of California Undergraduate Academic Advising Council, or UCUAAC, it was one of the priorities for him and other UC advisors. The group, made up of advising deans and directors, formed with the goal of working collectively to advocate for changes that can help students systemwide.

Brett McFarlane

The change in terminology was identified as one that could be made easily and quickly, McFarlane said.

In a letter to the Academic Senate, the council wrote that the term probation “carries negative connotations and may have detrimental effects on students’' motivation, self-esteem, and academic performance.”

At the end of each quarter or semester, students who fall outside satisfactory academic standing receive a notice of their status along with resources to help them improve. The UC scholarship regulations lay out the steps and possible notices including probation and disqualification.

“One of the things that was really getting in our way was the language,” McFarlane said. “"We’ve really moved towards using this as an alert and a call to action where we jump in and figure out how we can most help a student who may be struggling. The word probation was problematic because everybody’s primary association with probation is the criminal justice system.”

A term like probation can be seen as punitive and carry a stigma, he said. A neutral term like “academic notice” reframes the discussion to how advisors can help students and provide them with the resources they need, McFarlane said.

The change went into effect immediately after the Senate vote and should be reflected in reports for the fall quarter.

Other institutions, including several California State universities and public and private schools like Purdue University and Baylor University, have also removed probation from their terminology, using academic notice or warning. With the Academic Senate vote, the UC system is the largest to make that change, McFarlane said.

McFarlane said the council hopes to suggest other positive changes including clarifying some other language. He credited his fellow advisors for helping make the case for this change and praised the Academic Senate for acting so quickly.

“It was quite amazing in terms of how we worked together saying ‘`Yeah, we do need to change this and we need to do it right now and there’s no reason to wait,’” he said. “It’s a really positive experience for everybody. The thing I’m most excited about is no student that goes through the UC system ever again will have to see that word.”