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Changes for University Studies

University Studies launched a pilot program this fall that will allow graduate assistants to teach sophomore inquiry classes for the 2002-03 academic year. Two sections of Popular Culture and two sections of Family Studies will be taught by four graduate students: Mike Lupro, Mark Singleton, Wende Morgaine and Patti Haack.

If a student chooses to take Psychology 101, for example, to fulfill a general requirement, there may be four people teaching four different sections of the course. Each of those teachers knows the material, and there may even be a standard textbook used in all the sections, but each teacher would bring a slightly different perspective to the course.

While Psychology 101 would always be taught by a psychology major, the teachers of University Studies classes come from all academic backgrounds because the program is interdisciplinary. The Family Studies class, for example, might be taught by an English major or a sociology major.

A few things all the graduate assistants have in common are prior teaching experience, an extensive knowledge of the University Studies Program and expertise in the areas in which they are teaching.

One of the main reasons for strict qualifications was the desire to maintain the quality of the program while staying cost-effective.

The program was proposed by university administration as a cost-cutting measure. Although the idea originally arose out of the need to save money, Candyce Reynolds, the director of the Mentor Program, pointed out that it is also a convenient way to meet the students’ needs.

“Popular Culture and Family Studies are our two most popular classes,” Reynolds said. By hiring graduate assistants, the department was able to offer two more sections of each of those classes.

“I don’t know that we’ve really saved all that much money,” Reynolds said.

Judith Patton, a professor and the director of the University Studies Program, is hesitant to support the program.

“It’s something hard for me to want to get behind,” she said.

She explained one of the main goals of the University Studies Program, at its conception, was to retain enrollment. She said that studies show that building a relationship with faculty members helps keep the students enrolled. By allowing graduate assistants to teach undergraduate classes, it may be harder for those relationships to form.

Though not a fan of the program, Patton does see some advantages. As Reynolds suggested, it is a way to provide more classes.

“I have great confidence in the current graduate assistants,” Patton said.

She said that their teaching experience and familiarity with the University Studies Program makes them better candidates than assistant professors who are new to the program.

“It will be interesting to see how it goes and how [the classes taught by graduate assistants] compare to the rest,” Patton said.