Cant understand your teacher?
Associated Press
Jan. 26, 2005
Students could get tuition back under N.D. bill

Curt Woodward

BISMARCK, N.D. - Students should get their money back if they can't understand lectures delivered with thick accents and quirky pronunciations, says a North Dakota state lawmaker who wants to outlaw unclear English in the classroom.

"The Number 1 priority of higher education is instructing the student, the paying customer," said Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo.

Grande is sponsoring legislation that would bar teachers from undergraduate courses if they cannot speak English clearly. Students who complain in writing about a teacher's diction would be refunded their tuition and fee payments for that course.

Higher-education officials said the measure is intrusive and would spur a flood of questionable refund requests.

"Our students are very bright and will soon learn to use this law as an excuse to drop any class with a bad grade to receive a complete refund," said Michel Hillman, a North Dakota university system vice chancellor.

Grande's legislation requires instructors to prove their command of English in an interview before they're allowed to teach.

The measure also says a teacher must be pulled from the classroom if 10 percent of students in a class complain about the teacher's speaking ability.

Sarah Beck, a lobbyist for North Dakota State University students, said she got dozens of responses to an e-mailed request for students' experiences with teachers who are not native English speakers. But NDSU gives students plenty of opportunity to complain, she said.

Students must learn to work with people who speak in different ways, and colleges shouldn't be expected to hire teachers "that only speak with a Midwestern accent," she said.

Hillman said the university system already has policies to ensure English-speaking skills and procedures for lodging complaints, but Grande said the system is not working.

She said constituents have complained about teachers from other countries who have difficulty communicating ideas or understanding questions posed in English.

"The current process may be accomplishing the goals of research and diversity, but the question needs to be asked whether these need to be a priority over educating students," Grande told members of the House Education Committee.