October 27, 2000

S.A. Discusses Internal Problems, T.A. Resolution

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The Student Assembly (S.A) confronted an internal problem with a representative at yesterday’s meeting and then presented a resolution that would set proficiency standards for University teaching assistants (T.A.s).

The Assembly first had to decide whether to meet in executive session to discuss the controversial outburst that succeeded the meeting last week.

As reported in The Sun, the incident involved Undesignated At-Large Representative James Lamb Jr. ’03 throwing a Snapple bottle in another representative’s direction.

An executive session would close the meeting to everyone except those invited by S.A. President Uzo Asonye ’02.

The rift began with the debate of Resolution 14, a proposal calling for a more precise definition of the S.A. executive archivist’s role.

Members were concerned that the incident might undermine the decorum that the S.A. has been trying to add to its meetings this year.

“Assembly members’ actions outside of the meeting do have repercussions on the dynamics and atmosphere within the meeting,” Asonye said. “Our actions reflect on this body [as well as] the University Assembly, the Employee Assembly [and] all elected representatives on this campus.”

Several members were against discussing the incident in executive session, including Lamb himself. He called the incident “a private screw-up that I had,” and said, “the best thing you can do here is discuss this all on public record.”

The incident was referred to the Judicial Administrator and has been discussed among the members since it occurred.

“You can’t make it any less public then it already is,” said Mike Hanson ’01 at the meeting.

Another member of the audience speculated on the impression an executive session could leave on the public.

“If you just have an executive meeting, it does look like a big cover-up,” said Brian Fiske ’01.

In the end, the Assembly decided to conduct an executive session, obtaining exactly the two-thirds majority needed.

S.A. members spent 20 minutes in closed session, without Lamb, who voluntarily excused himself from the meeting.

Lamb said that he was protesting the executive session, because “to have [the public] excluded like that is fundamentally wrong.”

Though none of the members could comment on the closed proceedings, Asonye offered an explanation of its purpose after the meeting.

“Although we may not be able to be punished for actions outside the Assembly,” it was important to “remind members of their duty and what’s expected of them,” he said.

The meeting reopened to the public with Resolution 14 as the next order of business. The Assembly decided to postpone the resolution until next week’s meeting to “give ourselves some time to cool down,” said Arts and Sciences Representative Mike Brown ’02.

T.A. Certification

The S.A. shifted to Resolution 15, which recommends the certification of ‘non-faculty undergraduate instructional personnel.’

“There is no standard training process for prospective teachers at Cornell,” said S.A. Executive Vice-President Mark Greenbaum ’02, a sponsor of the resolution.

The resolution recommends that the University establish a standardized certification process for all new T.A.s. Those who do not obtain certification, it said, should not be assigned any undergraduate instructional responsibilities.

According to Philip E. Lewis, the Harold A. Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the University does not have a unified policy for T.A. certification or testing.

“We have gone to a lot of trouble to test T.A.s. quite a ways back. In the early ’90s was when most of these programs were set up,” Lewis said.

The resolution called for all T.A.s whose first language is not English to take an oral examination to determine their ability to communicate with students in the classroom by testing fluency in spoken English.

“If students can’t understand their T.A.s, and T.A.s can’t understand their students,” Greenbaum said, then that would damage students’ learning processes.

“We’re going after T.A.s who are not good teachers, not the T.A.s who have heavy accents from Long Island or India,” said Student-Elected Trustee David Mahon ’01, the resolution’s other sponsor.

“We’re talking about people who don’t have a handle on the English language,” Greenbaum added.

Some members wondered about the possible undertones of Resolution 14.

“My fear is that this resolution might have a xenophobic tone,” said Leslie Barkemeyer, LGBTQ representative.

Greenbaum cited the support of several members of the administration, among them, J. Robert Cooke, dean of faculty.

“This sounds like a reasonable and rational way to address [this issue],” Cooke said. “They’re using the chemistry department as a working model.”

In fact, “they’ve already done this,” he continued. “I’m interested in seeing what [more] we can do on this.”

The S.A. will debate further and vote on the resolution at next week’s meeting.

— Jennifer Roberts contributed to this story.

Archived article by Maggie Frank