I’ve been following the reaction to the claims by AU Graduate Students’ Association President, Amanda Nielsen, since I became aware of them in the Athabasca Advocate. I am not the only one who did not like being spoken for, especially with an opinion that was the complete opposite of my own. It seems I’m not alone in this, because each week since, the Advocate has published a letter they received refuting her.
More interesting is that most of these letters are from graduates or graduate students of AU, even though the changes to a call centre model won’t directly affect them at all. The first response, in the Jan 7 edition, was from Dr. Bob Barnetson, and signed by some 60 academics currently working at Athabasca University right now. They contend that there is no clear distinction between administrative questions and teaching questions, giving the example of if a student asks for the format of an exam, a straight administrative answer misses the opportunity for the tutor to emphasize the importance of certain concepts in the course, and have a short dialogue with the student that can help them identify short-falls in the students knowledge and recommend ways to remedy that.
Then in the Jan 14 issue, a graduate student wrote in to say that she disagreed with the idea that a call centre is a better model, and points out how the call centre can affect all AU graduates if it creates the impression that AU’s courses are not academically sound. This strikes as a very true note to me, and one I hadn’t thought of. Call centres, by and large, do not enjoy a good reputation for providing either service or information. If employers who have that impression hear that AU is entirely call centre based, what impression will that give them of the education we gain here, and more importantly, about the worth of our degree. We run the risk of once again taking on the mantle of simply a correspondence school or degree mill, a reputation AU has had to fight nearly since its inception to dispel. And that’s without considering what a fully call-centre based model of education might mean to the Middle-States Accreditation Committee where AU receives its US accreditation from.
The latest issue, January 21, has a letter from a recent graduate of AU’s Professional Arts program, who goes so far as to say he detested the school of business courses that he had to take, specifically because the call centre served as a block between him and his education, and suggesting that having a specific professor has other benefits generally not thought of, such as providing a meaningful point of contact in what can otherwise be a very isolating experience. He also writes about how call centre people attempt to answer his question by reading verbatim from the text book or Moodle course notes, which isn’t teaching but simply wasting time, as we can assume that by a university level we already know how to read the material that is provided by the university.
All of this brings me to my point. When someone is elected to represent us, we need to make sure they’re going to be the type of person who represents our viewpoints, not just one they’ve made up on the fly. They need to be someone who refrains from saying what we think when they simply don’t know. And not knowing who the candidates are, or not voting, does not excuse us from the responsibility, because when they speak, they do so with our voice, so when the AUSU election rolls around, it’s important for every one of us to participate. Make sure the people who get elected deserve to speak with your voice?because they will.