Spectrum Logo
A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Grad commission discusses better treatment for students

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 33 - June 13, 1996

Members of the Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies (CGSP) discussed better treatment of graduate students as they suggested items for next year's agenda.

Graduate-student representative Luc LeBell said that he'd been impressed that commission members had been concerned with making life easier for graduate students, but he'd like to see attention to the health-insurance requirements for international students, who may be required to pay six months in advance.

Mike Vorster asked "where and in consultation with whom" was the decision made.

Martha Johnson explained that the university is required to see that students do not become public charges and burden the counties' social services. But when, as a result of a high number of students being blocked for enrollment, a study was made of compliance with the health-insurance requirement, it was discovered that 600 out of 1,200 students had not complied. She said that before the insurance requirement the lack of insurance resulted in hardships, such as students having to leave the school and the country because they could not afford health care.

She said Immigration Services is expected to require that international students have health insurance. "It's very complicated. The vice president of student affairs is administratively responsible; the Graduate School is concerned; and the university has personnel who negotiate insurance." As a result of the lack of compliance, a billing procedure has been instituted and a person given the responsibility for reviewing each policy a student submits to make sure it is legitimate."

Joe Merola suggested payroll deduction.

Bryan Rowland explained that deduction is only possible with Trigon and there are less expensive policies available.

Bill Ley commented, "The Graduate Student Relations Committee needs to get a better ear on these concerns."

Vorster said, "I think Virginia Tech treats its students terribly. There are so many discussions relating to student issues that fall on deaf ears." He said the commission should "be a champion for how we treat graduate students. It's a pivotal issue in graduate-student enrollment."

Gene Brown suggested enlarging the student membership of the Graduate Student Relations Committee.

Graduate-student representative Beth Nolte said she was excited to be a member of CGSP. "It is the only voice for graduate students outside of the Graduate Student Assembly." But when she brought issues to the Graduate Student Relations Committee, "They were deemed not to be policy material....The concerns of students should be brought forth."

Danny Waddell, graduate-student representative to the Board of Visitors, recommended that the issue of job opportunities and enrollment in relation to national trends be on the agenda. "President Torgersen raised the issue and this is a good forum to continue discussion. Enrollment numbers are not the only way to address the issue."

Don Mullins said, "We're going to have a person helping to develop interdisciplinary activities...interdisciplinary skills would help students be more employable."

Rowland suggested the commission "look at support, and not necessarily just financial, of students who elect to come to Virginia Tech. Look at who your clientele are-international students and off-campus as well as `traditional' students-and ask, `are we serving them?'"

Additional agenda recommendations follow:

* Rebecca Lovingood suggested that the practice of lumping special courses and independent study together be reviewed. "It has never made sense to have structured courses and independent study considered together" in terms of the number of such courses that are allowed, she said.

* Lovingood also suggested that distance-learning courses be numbered differently to distinguish them from campus courses. Bruce Chaloux suggested looking at "the broader issue of how we count credit and transfer credit."

* Dean Stauffer suggested the tuition waiver be evaluated. "It has had good impacts and negative impacts." He said the negative impacts related to the impact on grants when sponsors do not want to pay student tuition.

Mullins added, "I support the concept of tuition waiver, but when investigators can't support tuition, they have to get the funds elsewhere, which reduces the support for graduate students to attend meetings or other things that are important to the graduate-education experience. I would like to see this commission help find other resources."

Rowland said, "The Graduate School takes heat as a hindrance, but I don't agree. We need to promote the good things the Graduate School does. The tuition waiver has improved the quality of graduate students."

Robert Brown asked what part the commission has in considering courses or programs before they are dropped.

John Burton, who chaired the Graduate Curriculum Committee, said there is review policy for decommissioning courses. "We have a mechanism for discussion, but there's not much we can do if the dean withdraws resources."

* Uri Vandsburger said he would like to hear a discussion of what is expected of GRA's across campus. "It might be good to look at the impact of the assistantship agreement," Lovingood said.

* Chaloux said the third year of the "revenue-sharing experiment" will begin this fall. The program allows departments to keep part of the proceeds of new courses at the Northern Virginia Graduate Center. "I'd like the commission to charge the Extended Campus Committee with looking at the experiment and come back with recommendations so we can remove `experiment' from the title."

* Merola said, "We need more active ways to say what the commission is doing. Many people are not reading Spectrum.

Eaton said if all the recommendations could be condensed to about 10 items, the commission would be busy next year.

In other business:

From the Graduate Student Relations Committee, Gene Brown presented a draft of guidelines for good practice in graduate education, based on a similar document from the University of Oregon. The draft represents students' perspectives, Brown said. "The `other shoe' will be the expectations of students by the faculty," which he suggested for consideration for next year's agenda. He pointed out the finished document could appear in the Graduate School Policies and Procedures Handbook and the Faculty Handbook in the section on ethics. He said that section of the Faculty Handbook will be updated in the near future.

In other business, the commission accepted the recommendations of the Degree Requirement, Standards, Criteria, and Academic Policies (DRSCAP) Committee for implementing graduate-program review. The recommendations include two changes based on comments from faculty members. Departments, rather than the Graduate School, will identify benchmark programs and gather information to be used for comparisons; and attempts will be made to design program reviews so that they can be conducted within departments' financial and time constraints. An ad-hoc committee will begin this summer to develop procedures for graduate-program review.

As CGSP chair, Lovingood expressed her appreciation for the members' investment of time and energy, pointing out that in the past year the commission had taken significant actions that will make a difference in the university community and the lives of graduate students. Examples are the graduate-assistantship agreement, the Commonwealth Campus program, and electronic thesis and dissertation policy, as well as approval of courses and programs.

Martha Johnson said because graduate assistantship agreement forms are on-line, they are being used to issue I-20s, which speeds up that process.

Chaloux said 60 students have taken advantage of the Commonwealth Campus so far, and special courses this summer will use the CC status to enroll students.