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ASMSU addresses webcam use and academic advising in Oct. 8 meeting

October 14, 2020
English senior Johnny Mocny studies on his computer during a break at work on Sept. 2, 2020.
English senior Johnny Mocny studies on his computer during a break at work on Sept. 2, 2020. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Zoom University, academic advising, and a conflict of interest were the main focal points of this past Thursday's Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, meeting.

On Thursday, Oct. 8, one bill and two resolutions passed through the General Assembly, or GA, of the ASMSU. The bills include Bill 57-19, which was passed through the Policy Committee last week. The two resolutions, Bill 57-21 and Bill 57-22, address Zoom policies and aim to hold academic advisors accountable.

Bill 57-21 supports a memo that was released from the Office of the Provost on Sept. 4, which says that students should not be required to have their webcams on in Zoom classes due to reasons of equity. The memo allows professors to require webcams during proctored exams, given that the students are provided adequate notice. This memo was based on an interpretation of MSU's Student Rights and Responsibilities articles and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. This interpretation has been debated among the Provost office and professors, who think this should be optional. The bill passed unanimously. Seconder of the bill, representative Aubrey Hanes commented.

"This bill is aligning us with what the Provost has put out, saying that the students are in support of the new update," Hanes said.

The memo from the Provost provides the following reasons for which students might not be comfortable using a webcam:

  • "Their internet speed cannot support the use of streaming video. Bandwidth problems are real for many students regardless of their location.

  • They may have privacy concerns (e.g. roommates, children, or other family members in the background).

  • Students may wish to keep their webcams off because leaving them on may reveal their exact geographical location or other unique identifying information to the rest of the class.

  • They may have a visually busy environment or otherwise distracting background that could detract from others’ ability to attend to class content.

  • They may have personal or environmental concerns that make sharing their likeness or their personal spaces problematic. Not all computers can replace backgrounds with virtual backdrops that would alleviate these concerns.

  • They may have a disability where the video feed will decrease their success in the course.

  • Students may not have a webcam on their computer. This item has not been a component of the university required laptop/desktop description."

The GA also passed a bill regarding academic advising. Currently, if students are misguided by their advisors, it is their responsibility to be aware of the misguidance. Bill 57-22 calls for the University Council to form a committee to review and develop the academic advising code in order to hold advisors accountable. In 2016, a bill was passed to call for the establishment of this committee, but no action was taken. A Code of Academic Advising Responsibility was also proposed to the University Committee on Undergraduate Education in 2016, but has since been abandoned. The bill passed unanimously. The bill's introducer, representative Nikunj Agarwal, put the bill in perspective for the online format.

"In circumstances like online advising, I think academic advisors are our first point of contact in terms of course selection or anything of that sort, and I think they need to be responsible for the things they advise," Agarwal said.

Addressing conflicts of interest, Bill 57-19 will amend the ASMSU Code of Operations to clarify that a person serving on the GA cannot also be on the ASMSU staff since it presents a conflict of interest. This bill passed unanimously. It ensures that people on staff can't vote on things that impact their department. Representative Jack Harrison explained that this also helps to clarify to staff members that there is a conflict of interest. President Abii-Tah Bih added to the discussion, adding that the bill has relevance regarding voting on the budget.

“If you're going to be a staff member or you already have a staff position, and you're voting on the budget, essentially you're voting on your own salary," Bih said. "Which doesn't make much sense and also just gives you too much power."

Another bill was introduced, Bill 57-18, but was tabled until the next GA meeting. This bill would create a partnership between ASMSU and ClassRanked.com, a student-run service that provides class ratings, reviews, grade distributions and syllabi from prior classes. This bill was tabled after representatives questioned the website’s owner, Hayden Hall. Representatives were concerned about the lack of accurate data present on the website. They tabled the bill in order to give them time to update the site before coming to a final vote.

The next GA meeting will be on Oct. 22 and committees will meet Oct. 15.

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