Student Association welcomes guest speaker Stephan Mann to discuss the campus free speech survey


Student Association logo. Image obtained from the UWL Student Association Facebook Page.

Isabel Piarulli, Student Government Reporter

On Wednesday, Sept. 14, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Student Association (SA) met for the first time this academic year. SA welcomed Chair of Faculty Senate Stephen Mann, to discuss shared concerns between SA and Faculty Senate. Other topics of the meeting included student input on wellness weekend and the “System–Wide Free Speech Survey Conversation.”

Stephen Mann, a faculty member of the English department, first informed SA about how student evaluations of instruction (SEIs) – surveys students receive to evaluate their instructors prior to the end date of a course – are problematic. Mann said, “In terms of the fact that those instruments often are quite biased when it comes to certain types of faculty members, especially faculty of color, faculty who are nonnative speakers, LGBTQ+ faculty, and female faculty.” Mann reviewed that a new survey will be implemented by fall 2023, called the Learning Environment Survey (LENS) that takes the focus away from the instructor and guides responses to address the learning environment.

Next, Mann discussed the Faculty Senate’s conversation of whether to continue the extended wellness weekend, designed initially during COVID-19 to help with student mental health issues that came out of the height of the pandemic. “There are inequities in terms of who benefits from the extended wellness weekend,” said Mann, “Lab Sciences that only have their labs on Mondays and students in performance groups who have their rehearsals once a week, we are talking about those inequity issues and how we can resolve that.”

Last spring a campus free speech survey came out of the UW system that led to the interim Chancellor of UW-Whitewater giving their resignation in protest. “The draft that went around last year, was supposedly going to be sent to all students across all UW system campuses,” said Mann, “the questions were extremely biased, the questions were extremely vague, and there were a lot of concerns”.

Considering the controversy surrounding the topic, the survey team and UW system are now visiting each UW campus, starting on September 27, to discuss with campus government groups and leaders. Mann says, “We are supposed to see a draft, we are supposed to provide our feedback and address our concerns.”

Mann then opened up the floor to questions. College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities Senator Lochner asked, “You mentioned the meeting on the 27 that student Senate leadership is invited to that, are we invited to that, and are general students invited to come to that meeting and provide feedback?” Mann said, “The invitation went to the government’s leaders, however because of Wisconsin’s open meeting law that meeting has been published on the university calendar and is open to the public.” If interested in attending this meeting, it will be from 4:00-5:00 on Tuesday, Sept. 27 in room 2310 in the Student Union.

The discussion continued surrounding the constraints the Faculty Senate faces on the extended wellness weekend, in terms of how much classwork can be restricted and on which days because of academic calendars.

Senators were asked to provide opinions and comments on future wellness weekends, to be shared with Faculty Senate in their next meeting. In agreement with the continuation of wellness weekend, School of Education Senator Drost said, “School is hard, and you can’t get better at something without hard practice and equal rest, and we don’t get a lot of rest.”

College of Science and Health Senator Grochowski agreed with the previous statement and added, “They need to be very clear with professors about what the expectations are because I know there was not supposed to be anything assigned over that weekend.” She continued, “Can we make it very known that students were not happy with how some professors treated that weekend last year.”

The final topics of the meetings included the swearing-in of Senator Grace Guyer and Senator Adam Whitney. Along with the unanimous election of Senator Carter Drost to serve as the Student Senate President Pro-Tempore.