Students and faculty members from various academic departments gathered together throughout last week for a series of “town hall”-style meetings designed to address ways to improve the learning experiences offered at UTM.
Internships, class presentations, peer evaluations, and the offering of solely half-year courses at the 400-level were just a sampling of ideas and proposals students brought forward to the Academic Planning Committees.
Professor Graham White, the interim chair of the Department of Political Science, hosted his department’s town hall meeting held on Wednesday, January 4 in the Council Chambers.
Attendees raised issues of teaching and delivery of programs, and asked the committee panel whether the department had looked at varying the methods of evaluating class instruction and structure.
Fourth-year student Robert Seredynski, among other attendees, expressed concern that there weren’t enough interdisciplinary components to the political science courses offered at the 400 level, whereas the history department covers a wide range of topics.
“A couple of years ago you had a course on Africa and I wanted to take it, but now it’s not offered anymore,” Seredynski said. “I really want to see more of an effort [from the department] to cover the politics of other geopolitical regions—Africa, Latin America, China, and South Asia…”
Professor Lee Ann Fujii, also a member of the planning committee, explained that professors are pressured to teach multiple courses a year, dividing their time between all the related duties.
Graham White explained that course selection is often out of the department’s control and depends rather on the capacity of the teaching staff.
White noted that internships are an addition the department is interested in facilitating, but that such programs are very intensive in resources and time.
He added that political science is a sensitive subject area, in which employees have to deal with confidential and private information daily. White and Fujii suggested that instead of jumping into an internship program, students should use existing course framework, such as interviewing professionals in the field.
Attendees discussed the lack of communication between teaching assistants on one hand and students and professors on the other.
“Assigning TAs is a competitive process, hiring on the basis of their experience[…]Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re not so great. And we try to hang on to the good ones and try not to rehire the bad ones,” White said.
The students remarked that many 300- and 400-level courses have TAs the students never meet. This phenomenon was particularly alarming for some of the students, because they felt that their TAs were not aware of the class’s lecture content, what materials were being taught, or the professor’s teaching method. As a result, the students felt that the TAs were liable to mark their work unfairly.
The recommendations gathered at the various town halls will be considered for future program planning.