UT-San Antonio Students Gain Mediator, Voice in Ombudsman Gonzales · 01 November 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage, Texas

Academic Affairs Chair wants to clarify grievance procedures

by Brandy Mansfield--UTSA Paisano--10/19/05

If James Johnson has his way, students will soon have a Student Bill of Rights (SBOR).

Student Government Association's (SGA) Academic Affairs Chair James Johnson and his SGA committee, along with faculty members, met with Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Dr. David Johnson on Sept. 26 to discuss the need for a SBOR.

"There is nothing explicitly nor implicitly that states students' rights. This is a gross deficiency I hope to correct," Johnson said.

The actual document brought by Johnson reminds students of their basic rights as education consumers.

Among ten points of interest listed in the SBOR, the overall message is to reaffirm students that the University's responsibility is to provide an educational framework that encourages freedom of speech and thought.

Points in the bill include the rights to respectfully question any faculty member about their "arguments, motives or agenda," the "freedom to question instructors when students feel the syllabus is not being followed," and the "right to expect course-related questions to be answered in a timely manner and to receive instructor feedback when necessary."

According to Johnson, one of the most important aspects of the bill is the re-statement of the student grievance procedure.

The grievance procedure is the official process for students to confront and resolve any issue between instructor and student.

In accordance with the procedure, for example, a student would address a complaint to the following people: the instructor, the department chair, the dean and finally, the vice president of academic affairs.

According to Johnson, the grievance procedure can be found in the Handbook of Operating Procedures, which states it only applies to disabled students.

"There is no grievance procedure for undergraduates at all," he said. "If more students knew about the grievance procedure, more would use it."

Johnson hopes that the re-statement of this procedure and the use of the SBOR will help to make students more proactive and more aware of the grievance procedure.

The need for the SBOR was originally discussed as an Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR), which focused almost exclusively on teachers' rights and responsibilities.

However, the 1940s American Association of University Professors (AAUP) statement, which focuses on many of the same issues, with the addition of instructor tenure, had already been adopted by UTSA, rendering the creation of a near identical document unnecessary.

According to Johnson, the proposed idea of ABOR, therefore, was reborn to focus exclusively on the rights of the student.

"While it is a small minority of faculty, unfortunately, some professors have created an uncomfortable atmosphere in their classrooms," Johnson said.

"The SBOR is meant to rectify this situation in conjunction with the AAUP General Statement in the Operating Procedures Handbook and make it clear to faculty, administration and students, that students, as education consumers are the focus of this institution."

UTSA is not the first in the UT system to adopt such a bill. In 2003 UT-Austin implemented their own Student Bill of Rights.

The difference in the UT-Austin version is that their bill of rights is a collection of rights currently listed in multiple handbooks and university policies consolidated into one document. This is very different from UTSA's current proposal, in that students at UT-Austin already have stated rights.

Once the bill is accepted by SGA, the bill will go before Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Rosalie Ambrosino.

"I think the idea of a Student Bill of Rights provides an excellent opportunity for dialogue," Ambrosino said. "It's important, however, to have an in-depth discussion among many constituent groups to be sure that such a document is a good fit for UTSA-and also protects the rights of all members of the UTSA community."

Johnson wants to offer students the ability to play a direct role in the Bill of Rights by offering suggestions or revisions or by just showing their support.

He encourages students to come to the SGA office in the Student Activities complex, or to the general assembly meetings on Thursdays to discuss the SBOR.

"We do have a compelling need for such a document to allow for a respectful pursuit of knowledge and academic debate in all of our classrooms," Johnson said.