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UISG bill provokes tensions

BY NOELLE ALKHAWAJA | FEBRUARY 11, 2015 5:00 AM

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The University of Iowa Student Government legislation regarding diversity and inclusion passed, virtually unanimously, at a Senate meeting Tuesday.

However, some tension did arise because of differing opinions between UISG members and the UI Faculty Senate.

“This resolution should be passed today unanimously,” UISG Vice President Jeffrey Ding said during the meeting. “It should be a strong stance by student government.”

The Diversity Inclusion Education at Large Bill, a piece of legislature written by Sen. Sri Ponnada (a former DI writer), has two main goals — re-evaluation of the general-education program with a focus on the values, society, and diversity requirement as well as hiring staff to conduct training in diversity and inclusion at the UI.

“It’s not just diversity, but a big emphasis on inclusion,” Ponnada said. “You might learn about [diversity] in a class, but you don’t necessarily learn how to interact with it or appreciate it.”

The UI curricula once included a section of general-education requirements called “cultural diversity”; however, after the restructuring of these requirements in 2011, this category “got merged and turned into values, society, and diversity,” Ponnada said.

With the bill’s passage, the items included in the legislation are recommendations for the university, not binding measures.

One issue that provoked tensions was the timing of the bill and the Faculty Senate’s wishes to hold off passing it right away. The members of the faculty group hoped to make the bill more collaborative.

“It’s a very long process,” said Kathryn Hall, the director of undergraduate programs and curriculum in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It’s a complicated one, and it requires transparency from the faculty.”

The Faculty Senate hoped to table the bill while it worked with UISG to “reach the same goal” but be “in on the conversation,” UISG President Patrick Bartoski said.

“They wanted us to take a step back, work with their working group and then put it back on the floor as a joint thing,” Bartoski said.  “We’re trying to make sure we don’t step too close to taking away academic freedom.”

Despite the Faculty Senate’s desire to work out specifics and details of the bill, UISG members voted on the bill Tuesday night.

“Shared government is not about consensus,” Ding said during the meeting. “It is about debate and resolution.”

UISG worked with student groups such as the International Student Advisory Board, NAACP, Asian American Coalition, Associated Residence Halls, among others.

“It’s what the students that we’ve been working with want,” Ding said. “It’s a really needed piece of legislation to show that we do need more diversity and inclusion education at the University of Iowa.”

After the legislation was passed, there was still some concern about relations with the Faculty Senate.

“They want the same thing we want, they just want to start a working group and put it on the floor in two weeks,” Bartoski said. “It’s my job on the external side to make sure we don’t ruin our relationship with the Faculty Senate.”

Despite potential consequences from quickly passing the legislation, Ding said the legislation could have a big effect.

“Great student movements have sparked great changes in history,” Ding said. “People will notice the legislation that is passed here.”


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