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Archive for Thursday, December 6, 2001

THE MAG: Wake Up Call - GTAs are D.O.A.

The French and Italian departments run into trouble on the mean streets of KU

December 6, 2001

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Teaching students how to "parler Frans" should be an innocuous act. Unfortunately, on the cold, harsh streets of the Kansas University campus, not everyone plays by the rules. Enter the nefarious French and Italian Nine, a roguish collective of rule-breaking rapscallions from the French and Italian department that was finally nabbed this summer and taught a little lesson of its own: crime never pays.

Their infamous deeds? Violation of Section A, Part 2, of the KU Policies and Guidelines for GTA and GRA Appointments, a 1998 decree issued by the Provost's Office stating that "assistantships must be an integral part of the graduate student's academic endeavor." In other words, the courses taught by GTAs must be directly related to their own studies. Instead, these nine academic outlaws opted for a gutter life of linguistic rebellion, teaching languages unrelated to their degrees. But now, thanks to some clever detective work from the Provost's Office, it's time to face the music.

Instead of receiving the GTA position including a union contract guaranteeing a partial student fee reduction and a full tuition waiver their sentences required the Nine to be re-appointed as lecturers, a non-union position without all those goodies. That'll show 'em the next time they want to teach a subjunctive to some unsuspecting freshmen.

Despite this being an open and shut case, Andrea "Il Duce" Pacor, the suspected ringleader of the group, hopelessly tries to play himself off as the victim.

"My lecturer salary is virtually the same as the GTA one," pleads Pacor, whose hardened criminal face is sporting the sinister, tell-tale five-o'clock shadow. "Only now I have to pay tuition. Therefore I had to reduce my credit hours as much as I could. Other Italian graduate teachers did the same. This is not going to help us graduate anytime soon."

And it fortunately won't help the Nine's diabolical scheme to teach KU students to "parlare italiano" either. Nope, their illicit GTA days are over. As long as chief provost officer David Shulenburger is in charge of the case, there's no chance these crooks will be walking because of some error by the pencil-pushers at Strong Hall. Chief Shulenburger insists that he's not targeting French and Italian students with this action. Rather, he claims he's just upholding the law's view that GTA appointments are to prepare graduate students for careers as faculty members.

"I have approved such appointments when the department could demonstrate that the experience gained in their unit would enhance the student's professional development," the Chief states.

Pacor, forever the unrepentant criminal, isn't really thrilled about Shulenburger's decision over what will and what won't "enhance" his professional development.

"The policy was applied very strictly," he recalls. "Nobody understands why. Our evaluations said many students took Italian based on friends' recommendations. It's a shame they had to create such uncertainty in our academic future. If I were still in Italy looking at this offer, I wouldn't even go here."

Apparently Pacor isn't familiar with the American tough-on-crime stance probably a product of those lax European laws.

Fabien "Bugsy" Curie, a graduate student in American Studies, got wind that the jig was up last August, after returning from his hideout in France. He learned the hard way that his French GTA position had been switched to a lectureship.

"I found out right before classes that I'd have to pay tuition," Curie remembers. "I wasn't expecting this, I didn't have money. I ran all over campus from Strong Hall to other offices trying to find a solution. The only thing they offered me was to get a credit card."

Credit card, eh? Apparently, the judge forgot to tell Curie about KU's other tuition payment options: lottery tickets and pawn shops.

Sudden impact

The French and Italian department, which sheltered the Nine, isn't happy with Shulenburger's mission to promote "academic endeavor."

"From a departmental standpoint, it messed up everything at the very last minute," voices Karen Booker, department chair, referring to the sudden switch in job titles by the Provost.

"Among our graduate instructors, morale is definitely down," laments Marina de Fazio, Italian coordinator. "We're in a bind because the only way we get enough teachers is by graduate students coming from Italy and supporting their studies through being an Italian GTA," de Fazio explains, noting that KU has no graduate studies program for Italian, and must rely on other departments for instructors.

Booker explains that the College of Liberal Arts and Science feels that the punishment for the Nine was a bit harsh and therefore is going to compensate their tuition for this academic year, but just this once, a sort of economic parole. Nevertheless, that doesn't let the Italian department off the hook for sponsoring those dirty rats. It still has the problem of finding lecturers for next year, a real task because tuition costs are likely to rise.

Some naysayers may ask why KU would implement a policy that turns former law-abiding employees into criminals. Shulenburger can best answer that one: "University policies are adopted because those responsible for them believe that they are in the best interest of the institution and its students, faculty and staff."

This isn't an ideal world. Sometimes KU's "best interest" requires creating crises in foreign language departments and jeopardizing graduate students' ability to continue their studies. I realize now that Section A, Part 2 isn't just about the hoodlums in French and Italian. Any language program that uses graduate students from another department could be harboring potential criminals. The full significance of Shulenburger's mission is crystal clear to me. I know only too well the dark side of higher education. For I a sociology graduate student once taught Spanish for a whole year as a GTA.

I know ignorance is no excuse for not knowing about vague and unrecognized laws, but I'm coming clean. It's time for everyone to get behind the provost's crusade. Let's face it the man's a hero. I gather up a group of like-minded GTAs and we head to Strong Hall to officially recognize the Chief for taking a bite out of crime.

Unfortunately, he's not there (probably trackin' down some desperadoes in Spanish), but his office staff graciously accepts the award, which I announce: "Provost Officer Shulenburger, I hearby award you, on behalf of all law-abiding GTAs, the 2001 Dirty Harry Award for going above and beyond the call of duty in cracking down on the French and Italian Nine. Congratulations."

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