Clear-English Legislation to Get Hearing in Minnesota Legislature

Clear-English Legislation to Get Hearing in Minnesota Legislature

MINNEAPOLIS

For Scott Jilek, a freshman at the University of Minnesota, a bill that would ensure that professors speak clear English in the classroom is clearly needed.

Jilek, a business student, says he’s disappointed in his algebra course because he can’t understand his professor. “It has gotten to the point where I don’t go to lecture anymore unless there is a midterm,” he says.

The legislation — scheduled for an April 5 presentation in a House committee — would require schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to ensure their undergraduate instructors can speak clear English. It would request the same of the University of Minnesota, which the Legislature has limited authority to regulate.

Critics say teachers shouldn’t have to speak perfect English. MnSCU officials say few international students teach undergraduates. At the UM, officials say the school already has measures in place to ensure that instructors speak acceptable English.

But Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, the bill’s sponsor, says students like Jilek show there’s a need for the bill. He says some professors speak English as a second language very well but that others need more help.

The bill also proposes that if 10 percent of students in a course file a complaint about a professor, the instructor would be reassigned to a nonteaching position.

Three states — North Dakota, Texas and Pennsylvania — have laws dealing with the English proficiency of college instructors.

According to Jane O’Brien, the program director for the Center for Teaching and Learning Services at UM, the school provides services for teaching assistants that help them speak clear English.

“One of the goals of the ‘U’ is to prepare graduates for the international world they will face, and the interaction with instructors from other countries is an opportunity,” she says.

Programs like the Spoken Proficiency English Assessing Kit, as well as graduate-level courses, help to prepare graduate students who want to become teaching assistants, she says.

Also, she says the Institute of Technology requires that teaching assistants take a three-week course to be sure they are prepared for the classroom.
The university mandate that requires teaching assistants be properly trained does not include professors, and if the bill were to pass, it could affect the services offered for the Center for Teaching and Learning Services, says the program’s human resources official, Caroline Rosen.

“It would increase our workload because international faculty are not included in this mandate and we would end up with more clients to serve,” she says.

The Center for Teaching and Learning Services offers consultations for professors who are concerned that their English may need work, Rosen says.

However, it primarily is the responsibility of the department that employs the professor to ensure he or she is able to communicate well with students.

Allen Goldman, head of the School of Physics and Astronomy, says his school pays careful attention during interviews with potential professors to be sure they communicate clearly.

“We are very tuned in to this as an issue,” he says.

— Associated Press



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