Student Rights proposal comes closer to approval

Intending to clarify students’ rights in the classroom, a proposed amendment to University Policy came a step closer to being approved last week.

If passed, the amendment would append a third right in the Students’ Rights section of University Policy: “The third right of students is to be evaluated based on stated course criteria and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study.”

Michael Bueti, chair of the Academic Affairs committee of Student Senate, and Indira Nair, vice-provost for education and chair of the University Education Council (UEC), presented the proposed amendment to the Faculty Senate last Tuesday.

“The intention behind this policy amendment is really to clarify current policy,” Bueti said at the Faculty Senate meeting. “We feel this is an important one [for students], so they know they’re being graded on the quality of work ... rather than expressing a differing opinion than professors.”

The amendment’s initiative originated last semester with then-Academic Affairs chair, Long Pham.

“Many people feel the university is an academic environment in which academic freedom should be promoted. Unfortunately, faculty members are human beings — they have biases, and some people feel that interferes with their grades,” Pham said in an interview with The Tartan last October.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Nair cited a context for the amendment: She has heard three cases from students regarding grading evaluation in the last five years. According to Nair, original faculty assessment prevailed in two of the cases, while a faculty member renegotiated a student’s grade in the third.

“This is what we see as the first step in clarifying rights for students,” Bueti said.

Nair corroborated this aim in an interview following the meeting. The only additon to the document, she said, is how students will be specifically evaluated in courses.

Faculty Senate members had mixed feelings on the proposal. “The problem is implementation of said policy,” said assistant department head of mathematical sciences John Mackey at the Senate meeting. “We all, or many of us in academics, feel under attack — from the initiative at UCLA, to the [corporate nature] of the classroom, and various other things.”

Mackey’s reference regards the recent exposure of the website, a site run by UCLA’s “Bruin Alumni Association” and dedicated to “exposing UCLA’s most radical professors” as “proof of an increasingly radical faculty.” The association offers students $100 for evidence showing professors’ radical objectives and then publishes the professors’ profiles online.

“Yes, it may be a laudable goal to achieve. It’s just that the implementation of it comes at a time when maybe we’re feeling a little bit under attack from various forces,” Mackey said.

Senate members also drew attention to other national initiatives to monitor professors’ ideologies in the classroom. One such initiative, conservative activist David Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights proposal, has been promoted to several state legislatures, including Pennsylvania.

“In the beginning of this amendment process, the national movement wasn’t something in the minds of Academic Affairs,” Bueti responded. “This is in no way linked to that [document] at all.”

Heinz School professor Robert Strauss also drew attention to the amendment’s elusive term “appropriate,” questioning who will determine what knowledge and material will be deemed correct. Strauss suggested following “appropriate knowledge” with “as determined by the professor.”

“My one concern with this statement is the lack of student input that has gone into this,” Student Body President Tom Sabram said at the Faculty Senate meeting. Sabram said that neither students outside of Senate nor the members of the Graduate Student Assembly have heard the proposal.

For now, Bueti will take the proposal back to the Academic Affairs committee and the UEC, review it, and bring the proposal back to Faculty Senate in February to ask for a motion to accept. Once approved, the President’s Council must approve the policy’s content before the amendment can be added.