GUSA creates petition for greater transparency in the Foreign Language and Linguistics Department

In yesterday’s weekly GUSA email, they included a petition to have greater transparency regarding doctoral candidates teaching classes within the Foreign Language and Linguistics Department (FLL). The petition was authored by GUSA Senator At-Large Adam Shinbrot (COL ’18).

According to Shinbrot, one of the major issues regarding transparency in the department is that if students have a problem with an instructor, suggestions about improving the class, or a question in general, they are not told who to contact.

“Some departments have people on staff who are in charge of teaching Ph.D. students how to instruct a class, and giving students this person’s contact information in the syllabus would be really helpful,” he told Vox. “Students are also not made aware that instructors actually have to go through substantial training to be permitted to teach classes.”

Shinbrot, who was initially under the impression that these Ph.D. students did not have any special training at all, said he believes that students should receive clarity regarding the use of their tuition dollars and deserve to know that they are getting the best instructors the University has to offer.

As a point of clarification, not all departments in the FLL use doctoral candidate students to instruct classes, and some departments do not even have a Ph.D. program.

“However, the departments who do take part in this all require instructors to undergo some sort of training,” Shinbrot said. “For example, in the linguistics department, there is an extensive course on how to teach linguistics and set of evaluations done by university professors before they are allowed to teach a class.”

The ultimate goal of this petition, according to Shinbrot, is for Georgetown to be more open and informative upfront with students.

“Simply, I want Georgetown to take the 15 extra minutes during syllabus week to tell students this information and to outline it in the syllabus,” he said. “I also hope that the university continues to ensure that instructors are qualified and effective teachers.”

Photo: Georgetown University

5 Comments on “GUSA creates petition for greater transparency in the Foreign Language and Linguistics Department

  1. So, what exactly is this fellow’s complaint? That GU uses graduate students to teach classes? That’s pretty much the model that every peer university uses. The alternative, using adjuncts, might be cheaper (given the poverty wages GU pays its contingent instructional staff) or far more expensive (if those were filled by tenure-track or other permanent staff), so it’s not clear that the money argument that he seems to be making really carries any water.

    Anyway, it’s par for the course that the only time Vox or undergrads in general notice the hundreds of Ph.D. (not Phd, Vox!) students and thousands of graduate students walking around is when some entitled princeling throws a fit.

  2. “According to Shinbrot, one of the major issues regarding transparency in the department is that if students have a problem with an instructor, suggestions about improving the class, or a question in general, they are not told who to contact”

    Seriously? If you have problem with an instructor, suggestions for improving the class, or a question in general, then CONTACT THE DAMN PROFESSOR. And if that isn’t to your satisfaction, contact the department chair. I swear, some students just aren’t smart enough to be at Georgetown. How did this guy get in?

  3. This petition was really a diplomatic way of saying the GU has a real issue, particularly in the Spanish department, with allowing some PhD students who are incompetent to teach classes. It seems to me that the argument he is making is pretty clear: When one of these instructors is incompetent, students should know who to contact to address the issue. This makes a lot of sense. For $65k/year, when an instructor is incompetent, students should have a method of recourse.

    When an instructor *not professor* is incompetent, informing them of their incompetence does not seem like a solution. This petition was particularly diplomatic. Instructors in the Spanish department have practically no autonomy. They don’t write their own tests. They don’t create their own syllabus. It seems to me that students would be put into small language classes so the instructor can assess the level of the class and teach accordingly. This seems to be limited by the fact that instructors are given a standard syllabus that tells them what to teach from day one through the final exam, which they also don’t write. Why the lack of autonomy? Does the department not believe they are competent enough to instruct a course? And if so, why allow these people to teach anyway?

    Don’t get me wrong, some of the graduate instructors are very good. However, this is not the case with many of them. Greater transparency will provide students with recourse and it may encourage those in charge to rethink and improve their instructor training program.

  4. As someone mentioned upthread, if you don’t want to contact the instructor, contact the department chair. That’s it.

    As for the rest, you’ve made a more coherent argument than the petition, which seeks to have the department(s) tell students about the awesome training their Ph.D. students receive and to inform them about how to complain.

    But what possible alternatives do you propose? Making Ph.D. students (who have real work to do) design 100-level language courses (which are basically the McDonald’s hamburger of higher ed — the same the world over)? Having different curricula for language sequences? Raising tuition still more to cover the cost of Ph.D. students who would be relieved of language instruction while also paying new instructional staff?

    As always, students have the germ of a valid complaint, but no conception of how the institution they’re interested in actually works.

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