Monday, January 25, 2021

ASMSU addresses furloughed RHS employees, recorded lectures and more in committees

November 5, 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

After more than 700 student workers were laid off earlier this year, the Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, approved two bills for their support. Also getting approved for the General Assembly, or GA, bills addressing Open Educational Resources, or OER, recorded lectures and the ASMSU Code of Operations.

Bill 57-30 moves to aid furloughed students by giving each a $50 Meijer gift card, the total cost from ASMSU coming to around $35,000. Due to the fact that most international students can't secure off-campus employment due to visa restrictions, preference would be given to them during application approval, although any furloughed undergraduate student enrolled in the Fall 2020 semester is eligible to receive funds. Bill 57-34 moves to advocate that Residential and Hospitality Services, or RHS, add a statement in their Student Employee Contract saying that they will inform their employees of a furlough or layoff at least 14 days prior to that action. Both bills were approved.

On Bill 57-30, introducer Nikunj Agarwal, representing the International Students Association, said that the furloughed students are still in need of help after being furloughed from their on-campus jobs and that the MSU Student Food Bank is unable to supply proper materials for all of these students.

"This has caused a lot of setback to their financial aid and, particularly, we also did look at the MSU food bank which did talk about how they do not provide all the food and supplies you need for two weeks, thus we're looking at introducing and initiating a $50 grocery card for these individuals," Agarwal said.

On Bill 57-34, introducer Gavyn Webb, a representative of the James Madison College, explained that this is a good safeguard to prevent short-notice furloughs from happening again.

"Working with Chief of Staff (Andrea) Bair and Andrew (Spicer), the students right activist, it was found that within the contract that RHS student employees signed that there was no minimum notice policy," Webb said. "Theoretically, the university could lay off hundreds of workers in a day if they wanted to."

Regarding a topic that has been brought up in several meetings — whether in committees, the GA or in questioning Provost Teresa Woodruff — the ASMSU Academic Committee approved Bill 57-32 advocating that MSU recommend to teaching faculty that they record their lectures and post them for students to view later. The bill says that posting recorded lectures would aid students that are disabled, taking on additional employment, subject to technical difficulties and/or unstable internet connection. Non-domestic international students would also benefit from this bill due to time differences and related complications.

The bill was approved in a unanimous vote and if this bill passes in the GA on Nov. 5, it will be brought to the University Committee on Undergraduate Education where policy regarding recorded lectures could be created. The introducer of the bill, and Lyman Briggs College representative Harsna Chahal, expanded on the bill's purpose.

"Sometimes in the middle of class, your video cuts off and it's a lot," Chahal said. "It makes life a lot easier, it's a great studying tool. Also, people with disabilities, sometimes it makes it a lot easier because you can see closed captions and what the professor is saying."

Seconder of the bill, a representative from the College of Veterinary Medicine, Lee Ackerson, has a personal stake in the bill and explained that other students are facing the same situation he's in.

"Like other students that are back home, I had to pick up another employment opportunity," Ackerson said. "I'm working three jobs right now, and that's obviously influenced my academic schedule. I've had to move away from being right on time to certain classes."

Concerns that the bill would incentivize lower attendance rates were addressed in a whereas clause in the bill that explicitly states, "These recordings shall not serve as a means for students to skip class, but instead, as supplemental instruction."

Privacy was another concern shared by members of the committee, but this was also addressed in the bill, in a clause that reminds readers that students have the right to turn off their cameras, per a memo from the Office of the Provost.

OER are educational resources that are in the public domain or released in a license allowing them to be open and free to access. OER includes materials such as textbooks, quizzes, lectures, homework assignments and more. MSU currently has an OER program, established in 2019, but it has yet to be adopted by the majority of professors and students.

The program also incentivizes faculty to use, adapt or create OER through grants. Bill 57-31, which was approved unanimously in the Academic Committee, advocates that MSU undergraduate courses adopt more OER and that the program be expanded. Introducer Aaron Iturralde, a representative of the College of Education, said that one of his campaign focuses was to address the rising cost of attending college, which led him to OER.

"Since tuition hasn't been lowered, students are struggling to pay for college which is something that ASMSU can always have an advocacy plan to go towards," Iturralde said. "By searching ways to decrease the cost of college, I was thinking of ways to decrease the cost of materials, it started off for me looking to decrease textbook costs but it led me to finding this movement going on called OER."

Bill 57-33 moves to amend the ASMSU Code of Operations to change the GA election process so that it allows for a runner-up to take a GA seat if the elected person resigns their seat 24 hours prior to the start of their term. Such vacancies are often created when a GA member accepts a position on ASMSU staff or is elected to the Office of the President. The bill passed in Policy Committee by voice majority.

Finally, Bill 57-18, passed in Policy Committee, 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 in an Oct. 8 GA meeting after representatives questioned the website’s owner, Hayden Hall, over concerns about a lack of accurate data present on the website.

These bills will be introduced to the GA on Thursday, where they will be deliberated and voted on. Members of the public are welcome to join and comment on the agenda, the Zoom link can be found on the ASMSU website.

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