Complaints prompt debate

Tim Sampson and Tim Sampson

The Graduate Student Senate was up in arms at its most recent meeting over possible changes to the role of graduate students in the classroom and a proposed amendment to the University’s anti-discrimination policies.

On Friday, members of the GSS voiced their opinions on possible changes being discussed in the College of Arts and Sciences to limit the role of Master’s students in teaching undergraduate classes. The Senate also postponed a vote on a bill supporting the addition of gender identity and expression to the University’s equal opportunity, equal education and anti-harassment policies.

Following complaints from undergraduate students and their parents about the poor quality of some graduate student instructors in undergraduate classes, the College of Arts and Sciences has formed a committee to investigate these complaints and look for possible solutions.

According to Luke Nichter, GSS vice president and member of the committee, proposed solutions have ranged from changing the way Master’s students are trained to prohibiting them from teaching undergraduate courses all together.

GSS members expressed vehement opposition to an outright elimination of Master’s students from the classroom, arguing that many graduate students depend on teaching assistant positions to afford education cost and prepare them for careers in academia.

‘It has become much more competitive to get into doctoral programs and so they need that teaching experience,’ said Steve Swanson, GSS representative-at-large. ‘That experience gives them a leg up.’

In addition, prohibiting Master’s students from teaching could dramatically impact the budgets of academic departments. According to Nichter, many departments would be hard-pressed to afford new instructors to take over the classes currently taught by graduate students.

‘Most departments are heavily dependent on grad students for teaching,’ Nichter said. ‘This is the absolute cheapest form of labor on campus.’

Members of GSS also showed skepticism of the student complaints that have brought about this discussion.

‘It’s probably happening less than the college feels that it’s happening,’ Swanson said.

‘I think the vast majority of complaints are coming from students coming into their freshman and sophomore years who aren’t fully prepared for the level of work they’re going to have to put in,’ he said.

GSS members plan on meeting with their constituents to gather information and opinions in order to work toward a possible solution. According to Swanson, they are trying not to be left out of the decision-making process.

‘We want to be involved in the decisions being made that will affect a large percentage of our graduate students,’ he said.

In addition to going over these proposed changes, the GSS also debated a bill that advocates amending the University’s anti-discrimination policies to include specific protection against discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

The Senate chose to postpone a vote on the bill so as to allow further debate.

‘I felt like we were rushing to pass the bill in order to get out of here quickly,’ said GSS member Scott Anderson who moved to have the vote postponed.

‘I’m not sure if I’m for or against it yet. I just think there needs to be more discussion,’ Anderson said.

The debate over the bill focused mainly on the ambiguities in defining the difference between sex, gender, gender identity and gender expression.

Some members felt that adding new language to University policies was unnecessary by arguing that discrimination against transgender individuals is already prohibited by protections against sex discrimination.

But members of Transcendence, a campus organization for transgender individuals, feel the new language is needed.

Marlene Bomer, the community liaison for Transcendence, said discrimination against transgender people on campus does occur and needs to be stopped.

‘We’re fighting for our equal rights and our right not to be discriminated against,’ Bomer said at Friday’s meeting.

A similar bill sponsored by Transcendence has already been approved by USG. Whether or not a change is made to the University’s policies will ultimately be up to the Board of Trustees.