Oct 132004
Authors: Lila Hickey

After extensive discussion, attempted amendments and a motion to return the bill to committee, the Associated Students of CSU passed legislation Wednesday night recommending a standard for spoken English proficiency be established for teaching assistants at CSU.

The bill passed 19-5-1.

The proficiency standard, which has not been determined, would be a supplement to the Test of English as a Foreign Language already required of all graduate international students prior to admission to CSU.

Dawn Watson, coordinator for the University Testing Service, explained that the version of TOEFL offered by the testing center is only available on computer and does not include a spoken English component, although the center separately offers the Test of Spoken English, which is a different test.

The bill, co-written by Sens. Jason Furtado, a graduate school student, and Eric Healey, a natural sciences student, noted that CSU has no university-wide spoken English standards for teaching assistants, and addresses concerns that language barriers may impact students’ performance in classes taught by TAs.

“A lot of students, in their evaluations, claimed that, especially in the science classes (and) in a lot of math classes, verbal communication between the TA and themselves made the class more difficult,” Furtado said.

Healey agreed that a problem existed and said it was more common in some departments and colleges than others.

“Personally, I’ve had some problems with that, and I’ve heard from a few people that this was a problem that needed to be addressed,” he said. “We have specific areas where it’s more prevalent than others.”

He cited the natural sciences college’s departments and such fields as chemistry, biology and computer science as examples.

Elisabeth Wadman, a contact for teaching assistantships in the fields of electrical and computer engineering, said the departments currently have no formal spoken English requirements for teaching assistants, but they do interview prospective employees.

“They don’t get hired sight unseen,” she said, noting at least one incident when a candidate was turned down because of language problems.

Healey said ASCSU Director of Academics Courtney Cage approached him about the need for such legislation.

“It’s important that students can communicate well with their teachers so that they can get the best education possible that they’re paying for,” Cage said.

While she supported the legislation and the idea behind it, Cage said she hopes students realize the bill is not intended to discriminate against international students.

“Many people think that this might be a discrimination thing, but it is not, in my opinion,” Cage said. “The goal of the bill is to hold ourselves to that higher standard.”

Cage said various faculty councils have been considering similar regulations. The approved bill will be sent to the university-wide Committee on Teaching and Learning, the Committee on Scholarship, Research and Graduate Education, and to the deans of all academic departments for consideration and further action, including the development of a spoken English standard.

The undefined standard was an issue of concern for some, including Parliamentarian Audrey Fisher, who recommended that the bill be returned to committee for further review.

“You’re supporting the standard, but the standard has not been established,” she said. “Without knowing what the total outcome is going to be, I think it’s almost foolish to support this.”

Brian Hardouin, director of RamRide operations, disagreed with Fisher’s interpretation of the senate’s obligations to the bill’s standard.

“If the standard is established (as), ‘OK, you have to jump through a Hula-Hoop five times and then you’re (qualified),’ you’re not supporting the Hula-Hoop, you’re going to support going in search of the standard,” he said.

Although Speaker Pro Tempore Todd Gaines agreed with the bill’s general idea, he felt its language was problematic and implied a formal test of spoken English, raising the issue of financial problems for potential students.

“The way that (the bill) is, sort of circumstantially infers some sort of formal test prior to admission or upon acceptance,” Gaines said. “If the test costs $100, and someone has to take it three times to pass it, that’s $300. They felt like they were going through all these applications (already).”

Gaines said he had spoken with the International Students’ Advisory Council and hoped to recommit the bill so the council could send graduate students to address the senate at their next meeting on Wednesday.

“It’s a problem for them; it’s a problem for the students,” Gaines said.

After a motion to recommit the bill failed, Gaines suggested amending the language, but this also was defeated.

Furtado said the debate over the bill’s language surprised him, but its ultimate passage was beneficial for the senate.

“I think the entire senate was behind the intent of the bill,” he said. “I think that the right decision was made.”

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