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The Academic Affairs Committee, commonly referred to as AAC (pronounced like “ack”) by LSA Student Government members, is a committee devoted to empowering students in their academic endeavors at the University of Michigan. Led by senior head-chair Gaby Torres and senior vice-chair Divya Manikandan, the AAC has worked incredibly hard, especially amid the pandemic, to aid students as they tackle their academic challenges in a virtual environment. From increasing election accessibility for student voters by advocating for cancelling classes on Election Day to promoting pass/fail grading in order to help students feel more confident academically while navigating unprecedented course conditions, AAC has worked on tremendous projects that have allowed students to thrive academically. We had the opportunity to interview Gaby via Google Form (thanks to COVID), as she reflected on her accomplishments over the course of this unique school year.
How has the pandemic affected AAC's work during the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 semesters?
Torres: The pandemic has affected AAC's work in many different ways. Firstly, some projects were more difficult to transition with from our previous AAC leadership, as various changes to grading and dates such as the Drop deadline were changed to account for the pandemic. Our advocating for a later drop and pass/fail deadline was helped by allowing professors and administration to see how a late drop deadline affected students. One benefit to the pandemic on AAC's work was the ability to schedule Zoom calls, which allowed us greater flexibility in meetings. Previously, when scheduling meetings, there was the need to account for time spent traveling. When someone is scheduling meetings on Zoom, travel time does not need to be taken into account, and one could potentially schedule back-to-back meetings now when one could not previously. One negative impact from the pandemic for AAC's work, however, has definitely been Zoom fatigue, which as our committee time was immediately proceeding our general meeting, I believe attendance suffered from this time.
What are 2-3 projects that AAC has worked on this semester that you are most proud of?
Torres: I would say one of the first projects that I am proud of is in regards to our work with the 2020 Presidential Election. As this was an election year, the Academic Affairs Committee wanted to help students find the time to vote by removing academic barriers to voting. Prior to this semester, a recommendation was asked of LSA administration to recommend faculty make their courses asynchronous on Election Day so students may have more flexibility to vote. In this past semester, we sent out a survey with over 275 responses to best determine which academic proposal students would be most helpful in aiding student vote. We have also worked a lot on student advocacy this past semester, with one of our projects recently being implemented university-wide. This project allowed for AP and IB courses to not count in registration time, and was a policy LSA Student Government advocated for due to the equity it would bring for those coming from high schools that were not granted the same opportunities.
Which U-M staff and/or other organizations have you worked most closely with this semester?
Torres: Our primary point of contact has been our LSA SG advisor Kelly Maxwell. Kelly has been an essential member of faculty for a lot of our projects, and has assisted us by consistently meeting with us and giving insight regarding our projects. We have also worked with other members of administration, such as Dean Curzan, Dean McKay, and Dean Flint.
What are some projects AAC is excited about working on in the future?
Torres: Although both myself and current AAC Vice-Chair Divya Manikandan will be graduating, I am excited for the upcoming AAC leadership to hopefully continue some of the projects and advocacy work that we have yet to accomplish. I hope that the Academic Affairs Committee will continue our work regarding having no class on Election Day, as well as other projects such as making our course grades more indicative of the knowledge gained throughout the course, rather than our performance on a few high stakes assignments. I also hope they will strive to make more equitable academic changes at the university.
How has your work with AAC and LSA SG affected your U-M experience?
Torres: I would state that the Academic Affairs Committee and LSA Student Government has been a considerable part of my U-M experience. Attending the Academic Affairs Committee and leading projects that benefit the students has allowed me a unique and incredible way to give back to my school community. I appreciated getting a different insight into operations of the university, and being in this position has allowed me a new way of engaging with students and faculty.
Gaby’s incredible work ethic is a testament to AAC’s attitude of dedication and devotion, and the committee continues to attract and develop student leaders who truly represent the “Leaders and Best.” AAC’s current projects, as listed on the LSA SG website, include amendments to: the Final Exam policy to ensure that students have no more than one final exam in the same day, the Language requirement in order for students to have the ability to opt for Pass/Fail in their last language requisite, and having events where students and alumni may connect.