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Sam attends student supervisor training (#1250)

Topics/tags: Grinnell

Yesterday, I attended one of the Student Supervisor training sessions for this fall. Upon reading that, you may have questions, such as Why would anyone invite Sam to the training? and Why would Sam choose to attend such a session? To answer the first question, there was a time in which I directly supervised students. In particular, I managed the CS department’s peer educators before we hired the amazing Sarah Dahlby Albright. More precisely, Jerod and I alternated supervising the peer educators. I got put on the student supervisor list back then, and I’ve stayed on it ever since.

As to why I attended, I’ve reflected and identified a few possibilities. One is that I indirectly supervise the class mentors and graders for my classes. Or maybe I directly supervise them, even though I’m not considered their supervisor. It’s not completely clear. And, given that we’re becoming a union shop, the lack of clarity suggested that I play it safe.

I suppose I also supervise my research students. Again, I’m not the official supervisor, but the lack of clarity may not exempt me from knowing my supervisory responsibilities [1].

I’m also proposing a new department position for our BPC crew. There’s a chance that I’ll be treated as that crew’s supervisor, even though I’d like to dump the official supervisor role on someone else [2].

I also feel guilty that I regularly get notices about Student Supervisor training and rarely attend. At some point, someone is going to call me on it.

Plus, I’m a masochist [3]. What could be more fun than a training session? [4]

I found the session surprisingly enlightening. I don’t know that I’d always find it such, but handling the incorporation of the campus-wide undergraduate student union is changing things on campus.

Since I’ve been on leave, I haven’t followed the union discussions closely, but I have been paying attention [5]. We’re currently in a somewhat uncertain state. Talks broke down in the spring, both the union and the College filed grievances with the NLRB, and the union may be on strike [6]. Since no agreement had been reached by the end of the prior contract (which officially covered only dining workers), the College has unilaterally decided that wages will be $13 per hour and that we’ll follow a Just Cause process similar to that used for many other College employees. We were told that the College and the union are close to agreeing on a Just Cause process and that the current process mirrors that agreement. Of course, the process and the salary may change once talks resume.

One fun thing about being in a training session is that you hear questions you have yet to think about. I’m not sure that I can reveal any of them. Still, I can discuss some of the questions that came to mind [7]. I’m relatively sure that most of this is public information.

What happens to our budgets, given that student wages have increased by about 40%? Right now, it’s unclear. The College would prefer that you stay within your budget, but it also acknowledges that some of us cannot reasonably cut student hours. Sometime in August, the Treasurer’s Office will be releasing guidelines on how departments can request more funds so that we can support the same number of student hours. The College should set aside some money in the budget to handle some (most?) of these requests. At least, I hope it did.

Do academic departments submit the request for more funds? If so, do they submit them to the Dean’s Office or the Treasurer’s Office? That’s to be determined.

When will we hear? Uncertain.

I’ll admit that hearing all this already had me worrying. CS relies heavily on peer educators. If we spend 2/3 of our peer educator budget in the fall and don’t get more, spring will be difficult. We’ll need a fallback plan. I have no idea what that plan will be.

Of course, we were also asked to ensure we had fallback plans in case the students strike again (or continue their strike) [8]. My class is structured around having a Class Mentor there to help with our workshop-style sessions; I’m not sure what I do instead. And I am not physically able to take on more grading if our graders go on strike. Oh well, I guess we’ll deal with things as they come.

Some discussion of FERPA issues came up because students need to sign FERPA releases to permit the union to get their work information (even something as simple as what job they have).

Am I allowed to list my class mentors on my public Web site? I’ve included my mentors on my class websites as long as I’ve been at Grinnell. No one has ever said anything about it. But it’s clear that the College now treats employment as FERPA-protected information. So … I’m reaching out to our FERPA officer, and I’ve asked my class mentors for permission to list them.

Are we allowed to put pictures of our peer educators in the hallway? That’s an excellent question for our FERPA officer.

As you might expect, the new student-employee discipline process generated some discussion. What’s the process? You can find it in the draft of 26 April 2023. It’s a three-step process.

Step One: The supervisor gives the student an oral warning. The supervisor also asks the student to sign a FERPA release permitting information to be released to the union. Students need not sign the release. The supervisor and student sign a form acknowledging that they discussed the issue [9]. The supervisor gives the student a copy of the document and uploads a copy for the Director of Student Employment.

Step two: The supervisor gives the student a written warning. This usually involves a meeting with the student, the supervisor, the Director of Student Employment, and an advisor for the student (if the student chooses). Once again, the meeting gets documented, and the supervisor uploads the form.

Step three: Another meeting. This meeting is officially called termination, but the decision need not be to terminate the student employee.

There are also some circumstances in which students can be terminated from their positions immediately. Let’s see …

4.4 Just Cause: Immediate Termination. The College may, without prior notice, place any student worker on investigatory leave in order to review or investigate allegations of the following misconduct: (1) Willful falsification of employment application, time card or other College records; (2) Gross negligence that results in material injury to property, person, or public relations; (3) Theft, assault, or any other criminal act; (4) Harassment of others; (5) Violation of the College’s Title IX, non-discrimination, or confidentiality policies; and (6) Refusal to perform assigned duties. [10]

I am not a lawyer, but I wonder about the use of and in that paragraph. Does that mean we can only terminate student employment if a student does all of those things? I don’t think that’s the intent. But I can see a reasonable challenge that the use of and rather than or before (6) creates a particular meaning.

I also wonder about Refusal to perform assigned duties. If a student doesn’t show up for an assigned shift, haven’t they refused to perform their duties?

No, I didn’t ask either question.

I did, however, ask whether I’m supposed to warn one of my peer educators, ask our Peer Education Coordinator to warn them, or warn them together. It sounds like we should do it together and allow the student to bring someone so that it doesn’t feel like a two-against-one situation. That seems reasonable.

One of the most significant challenges we will face as faculty will be how we ensure uniformity (or something close to uniformity) in how we treat our peer educators or research assistants. For example, it may be problematic if I give my class mentor an oral warning for showing up to class ten minutes late, but someone else in the department doesn’t, or if I give my class mentor that warning and someone in another department doesn’t provide a warning in the same situation. Faculty have such different practices. I wonder how we’ll achieve this uniformity. I suppose that’s why we have the learning lab directors and peer educator coordinators to serve as buffers. Maybe that’s why they called this academic freedom.

Will we have a common set of policies by the start of classes? Since there hasn’t been any discussion of them, I expect not. Or maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention. As I said, I’ve been on leave.

As I said, I heard great questions from the other student supervisors. But what impressed me most was how much everyone clearly cared about supporting students. They want students to do their jobs, but they also acknowledge that many students need to learn about the kinds of expectations normally associated with work and consider it their responsibilities to help students learn. I shouldn’t be surprised; we have good colleagues at Grinnell.

[1] Yay snarky quotation marks!

[2] I don’t do well with paperwork.

[3] No, not really.

[4] Anything?

[5] I’ve also complained about the use of the term Academic Freedom to mean We can fire our students without following just cause procedures. Fortunately, they’ve chosen a new term.

[6] I went to the UGSDW site, and there doesn’t seem to be any new news.

[7] Or at least to my mind.

[8] This plan is called an ESOP. I’m not sure what the acronym represents. I assume the P is Plan. The S may be Student. Perhaps Emergency Student Outage Plan.

[9] I find it strange that we write things down for an oral warning, but I guess it’s a documented oral warning.

[10] Redlined version of Colletive Bargaining Agreement between Grinnell College and Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers, Last Updated April 26, 2023.

Version 1.0 of 2023-08-12.