Taking control of your education

Sarah Hillenbrand

At Grand Valley State University, graduate programs are rapidly expanding and working out issues that come up. For students in the graduate program Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, issues have come up with students working toward completion of their thesis.

Students in the TESOL program have been collaborating throughout the past semester to work around a policy that was recently created and put into place in January of 2013. This policy states that students working on their thesis must have several members of their committee, including their thesis chair, be from the College of Education.

“The main change that occurred was in the College of Education,” said Melanie Rabine, who will be starting her third year of the TESOL program in the fall. “The TESOL program apparently never had limitations or guidelines for a thesis – no specifications of who was allowed to be your chair or committee. Now there are specifics on who has to be on your committee and who has to be your chair. It wouldn’t affect us if we weren’t a joint program.”

According to Rabine and fellow TESOL student Hanyang Fu, the TESOL program is a joint program between the College of Education (COE) and the English department. The students have taken an issue with the new policy because they work mainly with faculty from the English department and would like these faculty members to chair their theses and be on their committees, they said.

“This policy is problematic because most of the professors we have been working with are from the English department,” Fu said. “If we only have the opportunity to work with professors from the COE, you have to work with professors that you’ve never worked with before and don’t have as much interest (in the topic).”

In contrast, Elaine Collins, dean of the College of Education, said that the TESOL program is housed solely in the COE and is not a joint program between it and the English department.

“It is not a joint program. While the English faculty teach some of the courses, the majority of the courses are taught in the COE,” she said. “A parallel example would be the psychology courses taught for our teacher education students. This also is a COE program. This is not to say that the courses are not important or that the contributions of those faculty are not valued.”

According to the English department website, “The Department of English and the College of Education also offer a joint graduate program of study leading to a Master of Education (M.Ed) degree with a concentration in TESOL.”

The students also differed with Collins in faculty that they interact with most. While the students said they work mainly with the English department faculty members in their courses, Collins said the program is mostly housed in the COE.

“Actually, the students do not work mainly with the English department,” she said. “The majority of the courses are in the COE.”

Rabine and Fu have been working throughout the semester to get the policy changed or to have exceptions to the rule allowed.

“I’m going through the process now to work with someone from the English department,” Fu said. “…a lot of students have had issues with this policy. We’ve submitted a group petition to the provost and we have to talk with Dean Collins about this issue. My individual petition was denied from my academic advisor and then passed on to Dean Collins and I’m now petitioning to the Provost Office.”

Though the students were accepted into and well along in the program before the policy change was made, Collins said it still applies to these students.

“There is a difference between curriculum requirements which are always grandfathered (in) and policies which are not,” she said. “Again, I can point to changes in graduate policies such as the X grade, which was implemented in January following its approval through governance.”

Collins added that there can be no exceptions made because the TESOL degree is a part of the Master’s of Education degree, and all M.Ed degrees have a chair for their thesis from the COE faculty.

“Given that it is a Master’s of Ed degree and that all our programs have COE chairs, this is not specific to TESOL or unusual given the type of degree awarded,” she said.

With this policy in place, Rabine said that she feels it is hurting her learning experience and doing her and other students a disservice.

“I went to Grand Valley for my undergrad and had an amazing experience and really felt like Grand Valley cared,” Rabine said. “With this TESOL program issue that I’m having, I feel like they care less about the product I’m creating and more about political relationships within the university. It’s significantly altering the way I would go about doing my thesis. It’s doing me and Grand Valley a disservice if I’m not allowed to have an expert in the area and have to cater to the knowledge and expertise of another and limit the research I can do.”

Rabine added that with all the issues she has had this year because of the policy, she would not recommend the GVSU TESOL program to other people looking into this degree.

“I understand policies need to be in place,” she said. “But I’m not recommending this program to friends of mine who were interested in the program because of the limitations that are in place, which I think can definitely hurt Grand Valley in the future if they don’t take us seriously.”

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