Monday, October 25, 2021

Provost Teresa Woodruff answers student questions at ASMSU

October 28, 2020
<p>The Student Services building at MSU on Oct. 26, 2020.</p>

The Student Services building at MSU on Oct. 26, 2020.

Photo by Lauren Snyder | The State News

The longest meeting of the 57th General Assembly of the Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU) proved to be one of account as the assembly questioned new Provost Teresa Woodruff, passed several bills, with many public comments resulting in a five-hour meeting.

The assembly passed several bills regarding Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), ASMSU taxes and discrimination. Thirteen members of the public also offered input during the time allowed for public comment.

Kicking off the five-hour Oct. 22 meeting, Woodruff presented on her role as provost and was further questioned on the recent announcements regarding spring break and the No Record-COVID option, among other things. Woodruff began her role at MSU on Aug. 1.

During the 56th General Assembly (GA) ASMSU advocated for mandatory DEI training for students, staff and faculty. According to Woodruff, this training will soon be made available.

“We’re very close to those platforms being released to all members of the community, and in fact, I believe the date that we’ll be releasing to the students will be sometime the first week of November,” Woodruff said. “These are programs that allow us as an entire community to really come together and further knowledge, or have a baseline understanding of how we can all work together to create an equitable and inclusive university for ourselves and future generations.”

Woodruff justified the alternative to spring break, several mid-week, one-day breaks that will be spaced throughout the semester, as a move to limit student, staff and faculty travel. She also recognized how this might impact students.

“I know this comes with a great deal of heartbreak for a lot of folks, and I know that you’re already carrying heavy intellectual buckets during this COVID semester and this is going to feel as if it’s another long slog through the semester,” Woodruff said. “But our president really has been very thoughtful about all of the data.”

Veterinary Medicine Rep. Travis Boling voiced the concern of his constituents about the mid-week, one-day breaks to Woodruff.

“What they have concerns about is that professors will neglect this day or just look that day over as another weekend and provide work that will be due on that day or just right after,” Boling said. “So, my question to you is, how will you ensure that the breaks that we do have for next semester will be used properly and be used in a way that we as students can actually have a day to rest?”

In response, Woodruff offered that this is an issue that can be solved through communication with faculty.

“I’ll be very clear with the faculty, and I will tell you that the faculty need that break too,” Woodruff said. “I’m going to try to help them to see that they can lay down their academic buckets for those days as well.”

Woodruff also touched on the No Record-COVID grading decision, saying that other options weren’t chosen due to the fact that students and professors knew that this semester was going to be online.

“This is a way that students will not earn any credit for having taken the course and having earned a non-passing grade," Woodruff said. "This essentially means that the student never took the class. There have been questions about why we couldn’t do other grading modalities. I know there was a different pivot in the spring and part was that we moved toward this semester knowing that we would be in this remote environment.”

International Student Association Rep. Nikunj Agarwal followed with a question about accommodations for international students that are unable to come to campus for the spring semester. Woodruff said that the administration has kept international students in mind but is unsure about how the situation will look in the spring.

“For our 400 classes that we will be offering, we are looking to see what we can provide for our international students that cannot make it back to campus for the spring semester,” Woodruff said. “We do hope that there will be opportunities for international students to rejoin us. We just don’t know, as you mentioned, at this time.”

Communication Arts and Sciences representative Jack Harrison asked about potential aid for students that were furloughed by MSU, in particular, international students, who are more limited in their work options. Woodruff reminded the GA that the pandemic reset the employment situation due to financial strain on the university and the need to limit the spread of COVID-19. She also explained one of the ways in which they are helping international student workers directly.

“Vice President (Vennie) Gore and I worked together with Associate Provost (Steven) Hanson to work through some processes for allowing that there would be payment for some of the visas that would be necessary to maintain status in the United States,” Woodruff said. “Because we didn’t want to have an inequitable system, we allowed that for all international students.”

Building upon a theme expressed across multiple meetings of the 57th GA, James Madison representative Gavyn Webb asked Woodruff about teaching standards and an observed increase in busy work from professors. In response, Woodruff noted that professors are under increased stress and said that the provost office is working on creating more options for them.

“I do think that under these environments some things seem like more busywork,” Woodruff said. “I would urge everyone to take from every learning experience more than what is offered. Take from every opportunity the ability to learn something different.”

Webb later expressed disdain for the online format. He went on to ask Woodruff whether or not something was being done to limit the number of platforms that students have to use to complete schoolwork. Woodruff confirmed that the administration is actively advocating that professors provide ease in technology use for students.

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“We have emailed, and talking with our faculty, they have been encouraged wherever possible to reduce the complexity of the technologies,” Woodruff said. “We do know that when you’re on campus, you have to find your way in a very complex geographical space and sometimes navigating the complexities of the technologies has been difficult. We also know that there are costs that are associated with some of the third-party homework services in particular.”

Finally, ASMSU Executive Assistant Noihrita Masud asked Woodruff if her office has looked into making recorded lectures mandatory, saying that students often have internet issues or other extenuating circumstances, but Woodruff was unable to provide an answer at that time.

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