Petition Addresses Poli Sci Departmental Issues

Grades Curved, Courses Cut Among Students’ Complaints

  • Photo Erin Sparks

Two weeks ago, news broke that political science student William Groombridge was suing Concordia because he had a final grade curved down from an A-minus to a B-plus.

Now, the underlying issues in the case appeared to have snowballed.

Groombridge isn’t the only one to have been affected by grade curving, and for the past few weeks, students in Concordia’s Political Science department have been circulating a petition to address the practice, as well as other unwelcome trends in the department that have been identified by students and faculty.

The six main points on the petition include the lowering and capping of grades despite an apparent lack of a clear or official policy, a loss of academic advisors and reduced advising hours.

Political science student Gene Morrow brought the petition to the Arts and Sciences Federation of Associations at last week’s council meeting, after it had garnered approximately 250 signatures.

“I had the agenda modified to include the petition because I thought it would be a good opportunity to bring it up with other students,” said Morrow, who also sits on Concordia’s senate. “It turned out to actually spark a very interesting conversation within council.”

ASFA council unanimously voted to endorse the petition.

According to Morrow, the petition is the result of many conversations he and other students have been having with various parts of the university, including undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty and teaching assistants.

“I’ve been talking with them and getting a sense of the frustration that they’ve been feeling about not only the decisions made within the department, but more fundamentally the way that these decisions have been made recently,” said Morrow. “A lot of people have been telling me about how alienated from power they feel.”

The petition requests immediate intervention from Arts and Science Dean Brian Lewis, who was presented with the document following last week’s faculty council meeting.

“He seemed very open to discussing the petition with me, and seemed sympathetic,” Morrow said, noting that they have set up a meeting this week.

It also addresses an apparent shift in the way that teaching assistants are being hired within the department, claiming that qualified candidates and undergraduates are being denied the opportunity for employment.

“This is what we’re told. It’s changed from hiring anybody to just hiring MAs–only people from the master’s program,” said Bob Sonin, president of the Teaching and Research Assistants of Concordia. “The collective agreement basically says that you’re supposed to post these positions and hire from qualified applicants.

“From our point of view you should not be limiting your choice of TAs,” he added.

According to Sonin, however, the confusion around the hiring of teaching assistants stems from a greater issue within the university.

“The university doesn’t talk to us about those things at all—it’s been a major problem,” said Sonin. “We have very poor communication with the university, and that’s not something that we would likely be told about. It’s a general problem with [human resources], that we don’t have proper channels of communication.”

“Many of the most popular courses [have been] cut from the course list—especially those in gender, equality and law—to the detriment of students who wish to pursue studies in those fields.”

TRAC has not received any official complaints on the issue, but Sonin said they are looking into the matter nonetheless.

One of the other larger points the petition addresses is the modification of courses and curriculum without the consultation of students or faculty.

“Many of the most popular courses [have been] cut from the course list—especially those in gender, equality and law—to the detriment of students who wish to pursue studies in those fields,” states the petition.

The petition adds that professors and other departments involved in these courses seem not to have been contacted about the changes.

“I am unfamiliar as to the reasons why courses are there or not there,” said Maria Peluso, part-time political science professor and president of the Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association, adding that she has been away from the department for some time this term.

“However, I do sit on the curriculum committee, and no such meetings were called,” she said.

The last point on the petition addresses problems with the chair of the Political Science department, Csaba Nikolenyi.

“These problems have been further compounded by reports of the chair’s inability to be contacted in a timely manner, and a proven unwillingness on the chair’s part to engage in transparent and collegial governance,” reads the petition.

It also points at the hiring of an assistant chair, which has apparently reduced access to the chair even further.

Nikolenyi refused to comment on the petition, saying that that it includes information that is currently part of an open legal case.

The president of the Political Science Student Association refused to comment on the petition, because it came from political students, but not from the association itself.

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