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Budget, language requirement discussed too
Faculty Senate debates speedy posting of all mid-term grades
Monday, Feb. 27, 2012
By Hope Belli Tinney, WSU News
PULLMAN, Wash. - Faculty would be required to post mid-term grades for every student in an undergraduate course under a proposal initiated by officers of Associated Students of Washington State University and approved by the Faculty Senate Academic Affairs Committee.
The proposal was discussed at last week’s Faculty Senate meeting and was continued for further discussion at the March 8 meeting.
Students must take responsibility
Mid-term grades currently are required only for freshmen students with fewer than 28 semester hours and for transfer students with fewer than 90 hours in their first semester at WSU. Grades must be submitted to RONET by a specified date, which this semester is Feb. 29.
Sen. Jeffrey Peterson said he opposed the new policy, arguing that if students are concerned about their progress in a course, they should contact the instructor. Requiring instructors to post mid-term grades for every student is an unfair burden, he said, and the cost outweighs the benefit since students who want to know their grade can simply ask.
If WSU starts providing every student with a mid-term assessment, he said, the message sent to students is that they are not responsible for keeping track of their own progress.
A few slowpokes causing problems?
But Dan Vickoren, ASWSU director of academic affairs, said the policy isn’t intended to take responsibility away from students. The problem, he said, is that some instructors are not grading papers in a timely manner. Or, if they are grading them, the grades aren’t entered into an online grade book or reported back to students until late in the semester.
Sen. Robert Greenberg said a universitywide policy would be a heavy-handed remedy.
"Most of us get work back within one week,” he said. "You’re putting a burden on people who are already doing the right thing.”
Sen. Kurt Wilke said he posts grades after each exam, uploading scores for courses with as many as 450 students. Uploading grades takes a few minutes, he said, but isn’t a huge investment of time.
Safety net for struggling students
After the meeting, Vickoren said he was glad there would be another opportunity to discuss the policy. The real issue is a desire to create more of a safety net for students who might be struggling, he said.
When freshmen receive low mid-term grades, he said, those grades are forwarded to their academic advisors. They can call students in to talk things over and suggest resources such as tutoring sessions or the writing center.
"We’re trying to get those benefits for all students,” he said.
Three options to consider
Vickoren said ASWSU submitted three proposals to the Academic Affairs Committee of the Faculty Senate, with different levels of participation.
While the AAC supported the policy change for all students, a second proposal would have required mid-term grades for any student with a C- or lower. The third proposal was that any student could request a mid-term grade and only those who requested a grade would be required to receive one.
"We worked with the faculty for the entire fall semester,” Vickoren said. "We’re really trying to develop this relationship between students, advisors and faculty - all three working together for the success of the student.”
Global studies minor guidelines
In other matters, the senate also debated whether a global studies minor should include a language requirement.
Christine Oakley, director of global learning in WSU’s International Programs, has oversight for the 18-credit interdisciplinary minor. WSU has had a global studies minor for about 10 years, but Oakley said she is seeking to provide more structure to what has been an amorphous program.
The new program is modeled after those at UCLA and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, she said, where foreign language courses are not required as part of the minor.
As described in Undergraduate Major Change Bulletin No. 10, the revised program would require students to take 18 credits from specific course lists. Along with one core option, students would be required to choose at least one 3-4 credit class from each of four categories: arts and culture; systems and society; policy and economics; and technology and science.
The remaining electives could be selected from any of the offered courses. At least nine credits must be taken at the 300-400 level. All of the courses have been vetted through the instructors, Oakley said.
Foreign language requirement debated
Sen. Christopher Lupke said he found it inconceivable to offer a global studies minor without requiring foreign language proficiency.
"I believe it would invite ridicule from peer institutions,” he said. Lupke said he talked with a colleague at UCLA and there are significant differences. For example, the global studies major and minor are within the College of Letters and Sciences, which has a college-wide requirement for language proficiency.
Like WSU, the University of California also has a requirement of two years of foreign language for admission to any UC campus. In addition, within the UCLA College of Letters and Sciences, students must demonstrate foreign language proficiency through level three, or professional working proficiency.
WSU has no university-wide graduation requirement for language proficiency, Lupke said, and even the two-year high school foreign language requirement can be waived for admission if the student agrees to complete one year of language at WSU. The problem, Lupke said, is that there is not a consistent, university-wide system for tracking whether students actually take that year of foreign language.
Lupke said he is also concerned that the global studies minor has no advisory committee with faculty representation to provide oversight and recommendations. If the program is going to be robust and meaningful, he said, it has to have support from more than just one director.
Sen. Gary Collins agreed with Lupke, saying "This is some kind of global studies lite, and I don’t think the Faculty Senate should approve it.”
Oakley said she agreed completely that foreign language is important and that students should be encouraged to develop foreign language proficiency. But, she said, global studies is only a minor, not a major, and the intent is to provide students with an integrated exposure to globally related scholarship across the disciplines.
Faculty Senate President David Turnbull asked that the global studies minor course change request be returned as a discussion item on the next agenda.
Legislative budget report presented
The senators also heard a report from professor emeritus Nicholas Lovrich, who is the legislative liaison for the Faculty Senate.
The good news is that all of the state budgets being considered require smaller cuts to higher education than the governor’s original budget presented in November, he said.
"We will get some cut,” Lovrich said. "We don’t know how much yet, but it won’t be the draconian cuts recommended by the governor.”
President Elson S. Floyd’s message that WSU is at the precipice and further cuts could so cripple the university that recovery might be impossible is being heard, he said: "The editorial pages have been favorable to the idea that the precipice is near and we should avoid going there.”
Biennium budget looms
While this year’s supplemental budget is important, Lovrich said, next year’s biennium budget is even more important - there will be another $2 billion hole to fill.
"They are just kicking the bucket down the road,” he said.
Sen. Matt Carroll asked whether a proposal to make higher education next in line behind K-12 funding - which has state constitutional protection - has any chance of succeeding.
Not this session, Lovrich said, but maybe next session. He urged senators to be proactive and organized in getting out the message that while larger classes and more online classes might save money, they might also diminish the quality of a WSU education.