Minutes of the Meeting of the Undergraduate Council
 March 12, 2009

Present: Brian Colle, Jordan Cushner, Donna Di Donato, Cynthia Dietz, Sarah Fuller, Jeff Ge, Kane Gillespie, Norman Goodman, Cheryl Hamilton, Adam Kent, Beverly Rivera, Scott Sutherland.

1. Sarah Fuller agreed to take the Minutes of the meeting.

2. The Minutes of February 26, 2009 were reviewed.  There were two emendations under item 5:
a) Kane Gillespie will provide the actual language for the section in italics concerning makeup examinations.
b) We adopted Beverly Rivera’s alternate proposal for the passage on computer programming that could provide information on dates and times for final examinations when students enroll for courses through SOLAR.

The Minutes were approved as emended.

3.  Students should be aware of the policies governing makeup examinations and of their responsibilities for avoiding conflicts or an excessive number of Final Examinations in one day. Students are already advised of their responsibilities for avoiding conflicts in Final Exam schedules in the Undergraduate Bulletin under “Minimal Undergraduate Student Responsibilities”> “Course Responsibilities.” The UGC sees no need to replace that cautionary language.

4.  Members are needed for the General Education (DEC) Review Committee, which will be chaired by Prof. Thomas Hemmick. Some members of the UGC should be on that committee to ensure adequate communication between the two groups. Scott Sutherland will send a list of possible names to the GE Committee chair. We recommend that the committee include at least two undergraduate representatives and a graduate student who has experience teaching DEC courses.  Another suggestion is that Prof. Hemmick send a list of potential members to the UGC for our review.

5.  Stony Brook Southampton is of continuing concern.  The new Dean, Dr. Mary Pearl, is just becoming acclimated, so it may be premature to ask her to visit the UGC.  Scott Sutherland proposed that it would be useful to have someone from the Southampton campus as a regular appointed member of the UGC in order to ensure communication on undergraduate matters between the two campuses.  Preference might be for a faculty member, but an appropriately positioned staff person could also be useful. Names of several possible representatives were mentioned.  Scott will inform Dean Pearl of our wish for a Southampton member, and will forward to her the suggested names, but will ask her to make the appointment.

Norman Goodman noted that a number of committees are currently concerned with the Southampton campus.  He suggested that there be some coordination among those committees.

Kane Gillespie suggested that the University Senate might be asked to add representatives from the Southampton campus, the School of Journalism and the College of Business to all of its standing committees.  Norman Goodman (I think) noted that the latter two are now represented on University Senate committees (at least in potentia) by  CAS and CEAS respectively.

6.  Undergraduate Teaching Assistants. Scott Sutherland reviewed the progress recently made on regulations governing use and functions of undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs):
a) the UGC has formulated minimum criteria for those who wish to be UTAs. Departments must adhere to these, but are encouraged to implement their own higher standards as appropriate. In addition, each department should publish the process by which students apply to become UTAs and the criteria for selection.

b) the UGC endorsed the petition from the Biology Department to allow UTAs to proctor examinations with adequate supervision and restricted responsibilities. Other Departments may apply for similar dispensation, but must supply adequate justification. (Minutes of February 26, 2008)

Scott proposed that the UGC take the next step and reconsider present restrictions on what UTAs are allowed to do, particularly with regard to grading.

Scott noted that the Math Department currently does not adhere to present policies restricting the functions of UTAs.  The Department claims to have a verbal waiver for their practices that was issued some decades ago.  Selected undergraduates regularly teach sections of the proficiency (skills) MAP courses and lecture, keep homework grades, and grade examinations.  They are in essence, acting as adjunct instructors would. The undergraduates who teach the MAP course are in the teacher preparation program, take a math pedagogy seminar in conjunction with their first semester of teaching a course, and appreciate the opportunity to have some real teaching experience before they go out to do their supervised student teaching. The grades students earn in these MAP “proficiency” courses are not counted in the person’s cumulative GPA, but do register on the semester GPA.  Some other Math courses use undergraduate graders for homework.

Other departments that regularly use UTAs for some introductory courses are apparently AIM, Applied Math, Biology, Business, Chemistry, a DEC H course in Engineering, Political Science.

The policy of not allowing UTAs to be involved in any grading activities seems to be widely ignored by certain Departments who need their services.  What is to be done? Should the policy on permitted functions be changed?  Should the policy be enforced? Is there a middle ground?

General Discussion:

KG: What is the assessment?  Are the UTAs teaching effectively? Are their students learning what they should be learning?
BC: It is difficult for any person to teach a course for the first time.
NG: Should we put UTAs in the potentially awkward situation of grading fellow students? What about special connections or conflicts of interest between a UTA and one of his/her students?
SS: The undergraduate math TAs have adequate preparation and supervision and take a teaching seminar concurrently with their first semester of teaching.
DD: Often UTAs are better suited to teach the beginning courses and to respond adequately to questions that may seem elementary than advanced graduate students would be.
JG: Exceptions to the ‘no-grading’ policy can apparently be granted by a Dean.
We should perhaps allow well-justified exceptions.
BC: Having UTAs do grading seems permissible if they are involved in formal teaching practica and are learning to make assessments.
NG: UTAs should be made aware of possibilities for conflicts of interest and should be issued guidelines.

The general consensus seems to be that the current guidelines restricting UTA proctoring and grading should stay in place, but that Deans (after consultation with the UGC, or upon recommendation from the UGC?) should be allowed to make exceptions for Departments who can make a good case for use of UTAs and who have adequate training programs in place. All UTAs and the students in their classes should be issued guidelines about possible conflicts of interest and dealing with peer pressure.

If there is a need, the “Teaching, Learning and Technology” program might be asked to provide workshops on general pedagogical issues and Stony Brook practices for UTAs.

7. Grading in Teaching Practica. Scott mentioned an additional issue: that grading for the standard undergraduate teaching practica in Arts and Sciences (XXX 475, and in some cases XXX 476), is S/U only.  An UTA who does a merely adequate job of teaching will, of necessity, earn the same grade as one who devotes a lot of effort to being an excellent TA.  The only reward for the extra effort is personal satisfaction (and perhaps an instructor’s praise). For some student teachers, there is consequently motivation to cut corners and to be merely adequate.  Some years ago, the math department attempted to change the grading for MAT 475 from S/U to letter grades but the request was denied by the CAS Curriculum Committee on the grounds that: a) none of the other teaching practica in the College of Arts and Sciences had letter grades; b) the course had no real academic component.   While math was able to instead create another course (MAE 412, restricted to students in the teacher preparation program) with a teaching component as well as an academic component which is letter-graded, such a solution would be inappropriate for other departments.  It appears that teaching practica in CEAS are typically assessed by letter grades rather than S/U.

The fact that undergraduate teaching practica in CEAS are letter-graded while those in Arts & Sciences with similar requirements and duties are S/U graded should probably be addressed by the UGC.

The conversation on responsibilities of UTAs was open-ended and will be resumed. To aid our deliberations, Beverly Rivera will supply data for two consecutive semesters about the number of students enrolled in teaching practica, the distributions of those enrollments across departments, and the grades earned in those courses.

Respectfully submitted,

Sarah Fuller