NIU tries to solve fluency problem

By Mike Solley

In response to an apparent lack of effective English communication in the classroom, a university committee has been formed to examine and help correct the fluency problem.

Acting Provost Daniel Wit, committee chairman, said the Committee to Promote Effective English Instructional Communication was formed in December, 1986, as the result of year-long concern in the university community that there were some problems with English communication.

Memorandums issued last February by NIU President John LaTourette, then Provost, and Graduate School Dean Jerrold Zar called for advertisements making effective oral English a requirement for the employment of new faculty, Wit said.

“When I decided to form the committee, I wanted to bring the whole matter together,” Wit said.

e said, “Now, with the passage of the fluency bill, we are required by law to do something on a university-wide scale about the problem of communication.”

In December, both houses of the Illinois General Assembly overrode Gov. Jim Thompson’s veto of the English fluency bill which requires all classroom instructors in Illinois state colleges to be fluent in oral and written English. The bill then went into effect Jan. 1.

Sen. Patrick Welch, D-Peru, the bill’s original sponsor, said, “Students are entitled to have instructors who speak the same language they do.” “It’s only common sense,” he added.

Wit said the initial goal of the committee was to determine the extent of the problem with classroom communication and to recommend solutions to the university.

“I have suggested working toward the drafting of a proposal to the University Council based on the facts we uncover,” he said.

Committee member Richard Orem said the current task of the committee is to obtain data to determine the extent of the problem.

“We (the committee) have to find out what kind of complaints are being received and where they are coming from,” Orem said.

Orem said most of the observed problems so far are at the undergraduate level. “With students not as familiar with the content of some subjects, the problem in communication becomes all the more apparent,” he said.

Although Wit said the committee has not designated any one department as being problematic, various members of the committee said certain departments need to be looked at.

Student committee member Mike Stumpf said the economics department was one area where there were problems. Orem said he believed the physics department was also mentioned as having problems in communication.

Both agreed that departments with a large percentage of foreign-born instructors teaching classes, as opposed to professors, had a higher instance of complaints and were more prone to communication problems.