Saturday, October 24, 2020

Trustee Brianna Scott provides clarity, advice regarding university decisions regarding COVID-19

September 29, 2020
<p>Trustee Brianna Scott speaks during an MSU Board of Trustees meeting on June 21, 2019, at the Hannah Administration Building. </p>

Trustee Brianna Scott speaks during an MSU Board of Trustees meeting on June 21, 2019, at the Hannah Administration Building.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

When Trustee Brianna Scott presented to the Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU) about the Board of Trustees, she didn’t expect to receive so many questions from members of the General Assembly (GA).

“If there are any questions, I’d like to take maybe a few minutes, if the chair is okay with that, to answer any questions that some of you may have this evening,” Scott said. 

That few minutes turned into an hour and 23 minutes, as Scott was put on the hot seat as GA members sought answers to questions in various topics including tuition rates, the return to campus, football, teaching policies and international student inclusion.

Returning to campus

Rep. Gawyn Webb expressed support for returning to campus this spring due to his constituents feeling that the quality of their education has gone down and due to mental health effects that come with the online format. Although Scott said that she personally hasn't come to the decision not to return to campus next semester, she couldn't speak for the rest of the Board of Trustees. Despite her support for a return next semester, she still expressed concern about a possible outbreak and the safety of older faculty and staff.

"There are several trustees, myself included, that are hoping that we are able to come back," Scott said. "But one thing I don't want to do is have students come back, only to be back for a month, or maybe five weeks, and then have to send them home because we have some uncontrollable outbreak."

Scott also assured the GA that any decision regarding next semester will be made early as to avoid students entering new leases for off-campus housing that they won't be able to get out of.

Tuition rates

Scott said that there are currently no plans to lower tuition rates after Rep. Nikunj Agarwal asked her to touch base given that nearly 2,200 people have signed a petition asking the university to lower tuition rates due to the online format.

"Despite the fact that students are learning online, we have the same experienced professors, the same type of curriculum, although you may not necessarily have the delivery in the same way that you were used to having it, or wanted to have it, previous to COVID," Scott said. "So, we don't feel that we're giving you any less of an education in this virtual environment."

Scott did, however, say that partial refunds may be issued to those in classes with labs due to a lack of lab accessibility.

Rep. Aaron Iturralde said that students might face difficulty finding resources to pay for tuition, especially since the university is laying off student workers. Last week, over 700 RHS employees were laid off.

Scott said that the Board of Trustees is lobbying both the state and federal government to secure more funding to offset student financial burden. They are reaching out to alumni and other donors. She also said that students should take active positions, such as writing letters to the state legislature, in order to make their needs known.

Teaching policies

Rep. Tim Morris provided a list of seven themes he had observed from social media posts on MSU-related pages in hopes that Scott would get an impression of how this semester is going. Here is the list:

  1. Some professors have not been offering clear course schedules or even a syllabus.
  2. The amount of instruction class has been reduced while the amount of busy work, or unnecessary assignments has seemingly doubled in comparison to prior semesters. 
  3. Professors have substituted large amounts of reading in place of actual class lessons and teaching.
  4. Assignments are not being given clear rubric instructions or grading expectations.
  5. Professors are using multiple learning management systems, which make it hard to keep track of assignment due dates that are located all over the place.
  6. Many professors have implemented a module style format of course content, which gives more work over a weekly basis than prior semesters.
  7. The value of the education experience at MSU has dramatically decreased. 

In response, Scott expressed dissatisfaction that students feel they are getting more busy work and less instruction, saying that this isn't what faculty are paid to do. She also reminded the GA that students must be vocal about these issues.

"We want to make sure that we implement the changes based on the feedback we’re getting from this semester, so if you all are not vocal and you’re not talking about the issues, we can’t make sure that the other changes that need to be made are implemented in time in case we are still virtual in the spring semester," Scott said.

Rep. Cameron Lochrie asked whether or not something could be done about teaching policies that lack compassion.

“My position, as well as several others on our board, was that we need to make this as ... less stressful as possible that we can," Scott said. "We have international students that are not necessarily on the same time zone, even when they’re taking classes, and we need to be more compassionate and empathetic of every person’s individual circumstances."

Rep. Travis Boling asked Scott to talk about how the board is making sure workload is equitable and comparable to workload prior to COVID. Scott said that the Board of Trustees and her were unaware of any issues but that an increase in workload due to the pandemic is unfair and that she will consult Provost Teresa Woodruff.

"We should not be overburdening students just because we think they have nothing more to do because they are home or wherever and not necessarily having to walk or peruse a campus to go to class," Scott said.

Events and international students

Agarwal expressed frustration that international students lack opportunities to participate in university events due to the fact that they don't accommodate for time differences. He suggested that some events be held on weekends.

"If you have five events, even one being time-sensitive makes us feel more included in the community and gives us a feel of belonging as if we are part of the Spartan community," Agarwal said.

Scott said that the GA should communicate with student organizations that they should be mindful of international students when planning events.

Football

ASMSU Executive Assistant Noihrita Masud asked about the thought process that went into reopening the football season, saying that it didn't seem that MSU was sticking to their initial principles regarding COVID. She also said that the football season will likely cause a rise in partying.

"I will tell you that I think it comes down to money, to some extent, because football generates such a large amount of money that really helps for our other student-athletes, who are all on scholarship," Scott said.

Scott also said that the Big Ten made the decision due to the ability to have daily testing that yields quick results, which will allow players that test positive to be quickly isolated. She also said that the players can be easily traced if one were to test positive.

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