Officials say questions ‘not a major issue’

By Steve Carasso

Questions about the ability of some NIU professors to communicate English fluently to their students are only a concern and not a major issue, officials said.

Associate Provost Lou Jean Moyer said that there were six complaints on record from students last semester who were concerned about the ability of their teachers to communicate English.

“I don’t believe it’s the instructor’s inability to speak good English,” she said. “I think the problem is that some instructors have heavy accents that aren’t the easiest to understand.”

However, some students have questioned the process that academic departments go through when they hire instructors.

Math Chairman William Blair said there is a committee which helps interview a prospective candidate for employment. “We bring the candidate to campus for an interview. During this time we make an assessment of their ability to communicate English well,” Blair said. “After all of our questions have been asked, the committee then decides on who will be hired.”

The math department is not alone. Moyer said this process is used with other academic departments and added that NIU is very supportive in hiring instructors that are able to communicate English well.

In addition, a test has also been given since 1987 to all international students who wish to obtain teaching assistantships. This is a test of spoken English, Moyer said.

When students do have a problem, there are ways that they can help remedy the situation while keeping their name confidential.

“When a student has a problem understanding an instructor they should first come and talk to the department chair or assistant chair,” Blair said. “We then send a department official to sit in on the instructor’s class to see if the complaints have a foundation.

“We had two complaints last semester and both were about the ability of teacher assistants to communicate good English to their students,” Blair said. “Using this process, we found these complaints to be unfounded.”

NIU freshman Kevin Vrba, a pre-business major, is one student who is concerned with the inability of his math teacher to speak English well.

“It’s difficult to understand her because of her accent. I’m not doubting her ability to teach or her knowledge of the subject matter,” Vrba said.

Although he said he did “average” on his first math exam, Vrba said he felt he probably could have got a higher score if he could have understood his teacher better.

“I’ve talked to her after class and she’s really helpful but it’s still very hard to understand her,” he said.

The complaints of students are taken into consideration by the individual departments. One way a student can help is to fill out the teacher evaluations given at the end of each semester.

“I know that one question directly asks about the issue of the teacher’s ability to speak,” Blair said.