Bill on profs’ English heads to committee

The bill would require that the University have a policy to ensure instructors speak clear English.

by Elizabeth Giorgi

For some students the need for a bill ensuring suitable English among University professors is clear.

The bill, put forth by Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, is scheduled to be presented April 5 to the House Higher Education committee. The bill would require the University’s Board of Regents to create a written policy that would ensure instructors speak clear English before they are hired to teach undergraduate courses.

The bill also would propose that if 10 percent of students in a course file a complaint about a professor, the instructor would be reassigned to a nonteaching position.

First-year business student Scott Jilek said his algebra course is disappointing because he is unable to understand his professor’s English.

“It has gotten to the point where I don’t go to lecture anymore unless there is a midterm,” he said.

Jilek said he chose to not drop the course because he was able to understand the concepts without attending lecture, and that he was thankful the professor wasn’t teaching a more difficult course.

Students such as Jilek are the reason Heidgerken says he thinks the bill is necessary.

The bill is for students because there are some professors who aren’t able to do their job because they can’t speak English properly, he said.

Heidgerken said there are professors who speak English as a second language very well, but it is a matter of fairness because there are still professors who need more help.

He added that the problem is not limited to Minnesota, but a problem nationwide.

The University provides services for teaching assistants that help them speak clear English, said Jane O’Brien, program director for the Center for Teaching and Learning Services.

“One of the goals of the ‘U’ is to prepare graduates for the international world they will face, and the interaction with instructors from other countries is an opportunity,” she said.

Programs such as Spoken Proficiency English Assessing Kit and graduate-level courses help to prepare graduate students who want to become teaching assistants, she said.

The Institute of Technology requires that TAs take a three-week course to be sure they are prepared for the classroom, she said.

The University mandate that requires TAs to be properly trained does not include professors, and if the bill were to pass, it could affect the services offered for the Center for Teaching and Learning Services, said the program’s human resources official, Caroline Rosen.

“It would increase our workload because international faculty is not included in this mandate and we would end up with more clients to serve,” she said.

O’Brien said the assistance of the Center for Teaching and Learning Services is available to give consultations to professors who are concerned their English may need work.

However, it primarily is the responsibility of the department that employs the professor to ensure he or she is able to communicate well with students.

Allen Goldman, head of

the School of Physics and Astronomy, said his school pays careful attention during interviews with potential professors to be sure they communicate clearly.

“We are very tuned into this as an issue,” he said.

Goldman said some of the professors have accents, however, it is just as likely that someone from the southern United States would have an accent.

Glen Meeden, head of the statistics department, said students are able to express their concerns about a professor or TA at the end of the semester when the department elicits evaluations.

The department has professors and TAs who speak English as a second language, but the department rarely gets complaints regarding language, he said.

“You want people in the classroom who can speak good English and the ‘U’ is doing a good job,” Meeden said.