Bill would make it clear professors need to speak clear English

Jamie VanGeest

If a student has a hard time understanding a professor, a Minnesota legislator might make that professor pay a price.

A bill put forth by Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, would make the University change the way it deals with professors who are hard to understand because of an accent.

“It’s a problem that’s been around for years,” Heidgerken said.

Since Heidgerken proposed the bill, he said, many University students have told him how they failed classes or transferred schools because of professors who were difficult to understand.

The bill says the University’s Board of Regents needs to adopt a written policy requiring professors to have clear English pronunciation to teach undergraduate students.

According to the bill, before a professor is hired, the head of the academic department must conduct an oral interview with the applicant. The interviewer must then document that the person used clear English with good pronunciation.

The bill states that a student can notify the head of an academic department if he or she has a professor who doesn’t speak English clearly. The student can then withdraw from the class and receive a full refund without suffering any academic or financial consequences, according to Heidgerken’s bill.

Finally, if 10 percent of students complain about a teacher, the professor must be reassigned to a non-teaching position. The bill states that the instructor will not be permitted to teach again until a panel determines the person can speak English with clear pronunciation.

State Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls, will introduce the bill to the state Senate.

“I have heard from people since this bill surfaced that there are problems,” Larson said.

Larson said he thinks the bill is worth consideration and the issue of professors lacking clear pronunciation of the English language has been discussed in the state Senate for the past 20 years.

University employee Kate Sophia said this bill might be a case of legislators trying to make too many rules.

Sophia, also a University student, said she had a professor who didn’t speak perfect English, but the professor or the teaching assistant was still always able to answer her questions.

A year ago, North Dakota passed a similar law authored by North Dakota state Sen. Nick Hacker, R-Grand Forks, who is also a University of North Dakota student.

“It’s becoming a national phenomenon that education is beyond our borders,” Hacker said.

More American professors are teaching abroad and more foreign professors are coming to teach in America, he said.

“If language is a barrier, let’s make sure we address the situation,” Hacker said.

His bill included adopting a uniform policy for English competency of foreign instructors and a uniform system of filing complaints.

Hacker said if legislation dealing with this issue is passed in Minnesota, it needs to be flexible because legislators may not know what is best for the University.