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Students gain voice on academic standing issues

By Avery Rowlison

The Grinnell faculty passed a resolution to allow official student representation on the Committee for Academic Standing last Monday, May 2. This resolution comes as the product of a long process to gain student representatives on the committee.

The idea was initially brought up and in 2008 by a student resolution. Then SGA VPAA Julie Hoye ’09 solicited applications for two members who would sit on the committee for a trial of two years. Jacob Reisberg ’09, Sam Wice ’10, Elizabeth Maltby ’11, and Camila Barrios Camacho ’12 served on the committee throughout the two years and were well received by rest of the committee.

“Those students [who sat on the Committee during the trial period] were wildly successful and the committee loved them and really saw how they helped the committee to do work better,” said SGA President Ben Offenberg ’11. “They really brought a student perspective to things and actually [the Committee] found sometimes students were a little harsher, like if someone wants to change the curriculum … Also in academic honesty cases, students give a perspective that faculty don’t always have.”

After the resolution passed in Joint Board, students approved it through student initiative with an overwhelming 90 percent.

“Overwhelmingly [the student body] said yes to [the initiative] the first time,” Offenberg said. “Then … [VPAA] Joanna Demars [‘10] basically [wrote] the resolution for the first round with [Associate Dean of the College] Kathleen Skerrett, and it failed the faculty vote [in February]. There were a few concerns for the faculty, and we accounted for those this year.”

Students and faculty worked to reach a compromise that would satisfy and address the concerns of both parties.

“We tried to strike a compromise that still respected what students wanted for their own democratic participation in shared governance but was also attentive to the values that were being expressed the opponents and critics,” Skerrett said.

Once again, Skerrett played a key role during the drafting of the new resolution. Not only did she write the resolution, but she also promoted it and compiled faculty input so there was a higher level of awareness of the resolution among the voting members. When the resolution came up during the faculty meetings, Professor Victoria Brown, History, and Professor Martin Minelli, Chemistry, advocated for the inclusion of students on the committee.

“Faculty members felt that [students’ records] were too sensitive for other students to look at,” Offenberg said. “We addressed that this time to have students not attend docket … Students weren’t really going to go anyways because it’s between semesters, but students will be involved in any academic honesty cases like plagiarism or cheating … but they will also be involved in cases where students are trying to change or tweak the curriculum … as well as students who want to graduate early.”

Docket takes place between semesters, when the Committee on Academic Standing reviews cases where students’ GPA has dropped significantly to determine whether there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

“I think that the most serious concern had to do with confidentiality among peers, that is a concern that students would be reviewing other students’ records,” Skerrett said.

However, many students sit on other campus committees that deal with sensitive records. For instance, the College Hearing Board consists of two professors and one student, while Judicial Council has recently been reformed to consist solely of five voting student members.

“It’s not unprecedented that we have students reviewing personal records of other students and making decisions,” said VPAA Liting Cong ’11.

The student members of the committee will have to go through the same training as JudCo jurors, “to make sure they understand confidentiality and deliberative decision making,” Skerrett said.
To implement the new resolution, students will be chosen for the committee by the same process in which the trial members were selected.

“Next year, Wadzi Motsi [‘12] will be working with the Associate Dean, who will be the chair of the CAS, and they will put out an application and students can apply, and they can review the applications,” Cong said. “The SGA VPAA will make a few recommendations to the Committee, and the Committee will send faculty members to interview those students, and then they will select them.”

Both Cong and Offenberg have high hopes for the student representation on the committee.

“It will provide a greater, wider perspective to the Committee on Academic Standing … and it’s involving the students in the decision making process of the College,” Cong said.

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