Professors will be required to state students have the right to turn in assignments or exams in either official language in their syllabus starting in May 2022. Photo: Hannah Vigneux/Fulcrum
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UOSU francophone affairs commissioner Lia Bosquet worked to get the motion passed for four months

An amendment has been made to University of Ottawa academic regulation I-8.5 in hopes of providing greater visibility to linguistic rights in the classroom. University of Ottawa Students Union (UOSU) francophone affairs commissioner Lia Bosquet passed the motion to amend the regulation at last week’s meeting of the University Senate.

The aim of Bosquet’s motion to amend regulation I-8.5 is to ensure that students are informed of their right to submit assignments in either of the official languages, with the exception of language courses.

Academic regulation I-8.5, which had not been altered since being instated in the May 2019 Senate meeting, required professors to provide a syllabus at the beginning of each course, and outlined the materials that must be included within. For example, the unamended version of the regulation required professors to explain assessment methods, attendance requirements, and the University’s regulations on plagiarism. 

Bosquet told the Fulcrum in an interview that a common concern she receives from students is with regard to the violation of their language rights. 

“Notably, [the issue presents] when it comes to submitting an exam or paper in either French or English, regardless of the language of the class,” said Bosquet. “It’s an issue because it’s a policy that’s highly advertised at uOttawa.” 

Bosquet notes that the specificity of certain courses is a sure factor in the failure to uphold language rights. 

“If you have someone teaching medieval studies, you might not have that equivalent, either English or French, because it’s such a specific area of study. But we need to be able to encourage people that have lower levels in either French and English to be able to access these classes with the certainty that they’ll be able to pass the exams in the language they’re actually comfortable in, but still have access to that course.” 

Bosquet is careful to emphasize that a disproportionate weight falls on the shoulders of professors when it comes to practicing bilingualism in the classroom. 

“Professors absolutely need more support. When it comes to the process of taking care of those papers submitted in opposite languages, I don’t think we can expect all professors to be perfectly bilingual to the point where they’re able to correct a copy in the opposite language. So there needs to be a formal process to help them out.”

Policy solutions that Bosquet has in mind to address this gap include mandating bilingualism for teaching assistants. For upper-year courses that do not necessarily require a teaching assistant, Bosquet suggested that a survey could be administered to evaluate the language needs of the classroom. The course could then get a teaching assistant if students intend to submit assignments in the other language. 

The amendment to regulation I-8.5 is therefore only the first step in what Bosquet sees as a much-needed overhaul of language policy and the instruments to support it at the U of O.

In a statement to The Fulcrum, a U of O spokesperson wrote that students have had the option to submit their exams or reports in the language of their choice for years and it is also stated in our policy on bilingualism. The fact that the Senate approved this motion formalizes it.” 

Bosquet argues that these measures have not provided the necessary visibility to maintain real linguistic equality in the classroom.

“The bilingualism policy was written in 1974. It’s so old. For a really long time, linguistic policy wasn’t the responsibility of a specific office, it was just a collective responsibility: ‘we all need to take care of the Francophones.’ But when you do that, you’re not actually assigning someone to deal with these issues. They’re just kind of floating,” said Bosquet. “It got to a point where tensions got so high that the University had to hire a Francophone bureau, which is now in place. The staff that works there is wonderful, they’ve helped me through this process.”

Bosquet said that this office has only come into existence in the past year. She asserts that the erosion of linguistic rights on campus is not an issue of attitude, but of administration. 

“It should have happened before. I don’t think it’s because the will isn’t there. I just think it’s because it wasn’t anyone’s responsibility. So those reflections didn’t take place.”

While she believes that there remains a significant amount of work ahead to ensure the preservation of language rights at the U of O, she is happy with the passage of her motion as a first step.

“I just think it will help make things more accessible. And I think this doesn’t only benefit Francophone students, too, I think that like any Anglophone student that has a base level of French can also have access to French courses, knowing that they can turn their exams or their papers back in English,” she said. “Overall, I think students are happy.” 

The University spokesperson told Fulcrum that the policy will come into effect in May 2022.