VIDEO: Military students claim mistreatment by professors

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Standing before a crowd of people and facing public humiliation, Staff Sergeant Tovar was being interrogated. Hardly able to get a word in edgewise, she had no choice but to deal with a highly personal barrage of questioning.

Tovar wasn’t standing in a basic training formation. She was in a UAA business class, Principles of Marketing.

Despite eight years in the Army Reserves, nothing could have prepared her for this.

What started out as a courtesy email to resolve a scheduling conflict between school attendance and mandatory duty quickly dissolved into what some have described as a public face-off.

The contenders? In one corner, the assistant professor of Business and Public Policy, Na Xiao, openly enforcing her classroom policy. In the other corner, military student Nichole Tovar, struggling to receive what she believed to be her student rights.

As a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves, Tovar has always juggled her course work with military requirements. Cramming for tests and dealing with large amounts of make-up work are the norm for her. Appearing consistently on the Dean’s List and always maintaining high grades, she has handled the pressure.

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But this semester things suddenly went south. When comparing her business class schedule to her drill schedule, Tovar noticed the day of her final overlapped with one of her mandatory drill days. Tovar sent out a courtesy email to her professor, explaining the conflict and asking if it was possible to reschedule the exam.

Tovar was not prepared for the reply she got back from the professor.

“as i mentioned in the very first class, there will be no make-up exams. if you are absent from this, your final grade will probably be fail, which I do not want to give. pls try to change your army duty. that’s the only solution. thanks,” read the email.

“Her response was a shocker to me,” Tovar said. “I explained to her, I’ll probably go to the Dean or somebody higher about this, because this doesn’t seem right at all. It’s not a matter of rescheduling my duty; I have to be there. If I don’t show up for it, I can be punished by the military.”

Tovar’s options were either to withdraw from the class or take it during another term.  She was also told that talking with the Dean would change nothing.

In response, Tovar approached the Assistant Dean of Business and Public Policy, Claudia Clark along with a group of other students who had complaints about Xiao.

“I put my problem out there to her,” said Tovar, “and she said, ‘Oh, well that’s definitely something we can work on.’ They must have approached [Xiao] about it, because next thing I know, things started getting worse.”

According to Tovar, Xiao began singling her out in class, repeatedly questioning her on assignments and projects. When giving a group presentation for the class, Tovar said she was the only one of her group to be critiqued, multiple times, on the project.

“It was very blatant,” Tovar said. “It almost felt spiteful, as if she was trying to show me who was running the show. I was pretty alarmed.”

Things escalated in a matter of days. Along with another military student, Tovar was called to the front of the class and forced to endure a public questioning from Xiao, who began explaining the entire situation to the rest of the class.  Xiao pulled up the entire set of personal emails between Xiao and Tovar on the overhead screen and began reading them aloud.

Unless given permission by the student, publicizing a student’s email is a violation of Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) rights, among others. Tovar had not given such consent.

“I couldn’t believe she would cross such a line. The whole class was blown away. I was simply shocked,” Tovar said.

Xiao also asked Tovar if English was her first language, suggesting Tovar hadn’t understood the options the professor laid out for her. Tovar said her reserved personality was the sole reason she didn’t retort at that point.

After the event, several of Tovar’s classmates sent her emails, expressing their sympathies and giving their full support toward seeking reprimanding action against Xiao.

“It is difficult to begin putting my frustrations with (Xiao), her lack of professionalism and her conduct with students in writing,” one classmate said in an email.

“I would love to participate in any actions necessary to reprimand her and provide some sort of justification for the section 1 and 2 students,” added another student.

After video surfaced showing Xiao questioning Tovar in class, the students once again approached the Assistant Dean.

UAA’s response was swift; Xiao was stripped of her teaching post and ended up resigning. The class switched to an online course, with students required to finish the remaining assignments and exams before the end of the semester.

Beyond this particular incident, military students are also worried about UAA’s military policy in general.

The University of Alaska Anchorage has no protection for military students who are called away on duty, or any other military service. There are excused absence rights for students involved with athletics or student government, but nothing military related. In addition, there are no military advisors on campus; the post is reportedly vacant.

“I searched through the UAA handbook, believing I would find some policy showing I had the right to leave and reschedule my final,” said Tovar. “I saw athletics, student government—but there was absolutely nothing that would help me out of my predicament.”

This isn’t the first time such lack of leave rights has impacted a UAA military student. A poignant example can be found in one ex-UAA student, who wished to remain anonymous for this article. According to the former UAA student, she received four failing grades after all four of her professors refused to work with her when she was called away for basic training the week of her finals. She eventually dropped out of UAA, and has no desire to return.

“The way I was treated, it felt like they regarded me as nothing,” she said. “I was an inconvenience. An annoyance.”

Claudia Clark, Assistant Dean of Business and Public Policy, provided insight on behalf of the College of Business and Public Policy.

“UAA is fully committed to assisting military students in any way possible, including working with them concerning their military duties. As for this specific issue, we are not allowed to discuss such personal matters,” Clark said.

Pam Cravez spoke for Chancellor Tom Case.

“We strongly encourage faculty to be flexible and respect the military and other commitments of our students,” Cravez said.

As Chairman of the Alaska Veterans Foundation, Inc., a Board Director of Alaska Veterans Business Alliance and a father of a UAA veteran student, Ric Davidge offered firm opinions on the subject.

“The University system-wide needs to make a more purposeful effort to welcome, support, and encourage our veterans and active service members as students,” said “They have earned it through service and sacrifice,” Davidge said.

See KTUU’s follow-up story Here


 

21 COMMENTS

  1. Good for you, SSG Tovar! Thank you for getting the discussion started between the people that have discretion over such things. You’ve done a great service to your fellow soldiers! Thanks for what you do!

  2. I am currently working on my masters at UAS and have been encouraging my active duty fiance to take classes through UAA. Perhaps he should be more cautious about enrolling if the faculty is “encouraged” to accommodate our service men and women but not required. This is a major red flag the university needs to address. If the decision lies with reprimand from the military or dropping out of college, UAA will lose every time.

  3. Is UAA going to establish a service member policy? How is it fair to have a policy for student government and athletes? I don’t believe the school can fully support service members unless it’s policies equal those of student athletes and student government. Not all of the professors are understanding and need a policy to enforce service member support.

  4. I think UAA needs to establish a service members policy. 75% of people who live in the city of Anchorage know someone or are related someone who works on Elmendorf Fort Richardson joint base. With that many people who are involved with the military in some way, why wouldn’t you consider them in making your excused absence policy?

  5. Very nice sis, I had no idea thing went that far out of line. Hopefully UAA will do something to fix this problem. Encouraging staff to work with military students certainly is not enough.

  6. This article is very well written. The school needs to support those serving our country.

  7. As an Alum of this University, I am appalled at the treatment of a Dean’s List, Military Student. I am also a Reservist, and I hope that UAA takes a firm stance to support those who fight for our Country. I would love to read a follow-up story to this issue. Kudos to SSgt Tovar for fighting what she believed in. As I have been told before, you don’t know your rights until you have to stand up for them. Stand tall…

  8. There needs to be an in writing policy, not just a suggestion. I’ve run into this same issue before at UAA and was told that I had no rights, that I could simply take the semester over. If it’s not a policy, it’s not protecting us. We gladly protect Americans, help us better ourselves. Alaska is one of the highest veteran population states in the US; this should be a non issue.

  9. Years, ago I was looking into becoming a military chaplain and talked to a UAA psychology professor about the what I might need for coursework. I was treated with such contempt that I decided this professor was either anti-military or anti-religion or both.

  10. It’s a shame that the situation in this class went as far as it did. As a member of the faculty of CBPP, I absolutely do not condone singling out students in such a humiliating manner. But the actions of one faculty member, who was new to UAA, should not be mistaken as characterizing all faculty. I’m sure there are many instances of faculty members working with military students that go unreported. I have military students in my class most every semester. I make it clear that anyone who can’t make it to a scheduled exam, just needs to let me know, then we can work on alternate arrangements to meet course objectives. I do this for any student because I know that students are people with lives and have other, sometime unavoidable, commitments.

  11. Many professors do work with military students. I have a lot of professors who have supported me, and backed me on this issue. What is alarming is that they don’t have to. If UAA is going to be advertised to military, as military friendly, then they should have some policies in place. Having something in writing would have prevented any conflict in the first place. If you read the article, then I am sure you noticed the story about the girl who received four failing grades over a similar situation. This has happened many times. I am glad you support your students, but not every faculty member does. So make things consistent by enforcing a policy that protects those who serve. UAA doesn’t have a problem taking our education benefits, so they should make it easier for us to serve our country and pursue a higher education.

  12. I attend UAA as a veteran and I an say nothing but stand up things about the school. I know students that have had to leave, TDY purposes, and were still able not only pass their classes but remain on the deans list. They know how to work with veterans and do it very well. That being said, there are always bad apples among the bunch that spoil it all. This teacher seemed to have a power trip and I believe, according to the article, that UAA did what was needed. I love that all of my instructors have been able to work with my scheduling, which is not easy to work with, and help me along the way. I know that in each of my classes it is at the very least 50% veterans. Well done UAA and well done SSgt…. Good for standing up for yourself.

  13. Nicole I never could of imagined what would of come out of that first day that me & a few other students went to talk to the dean. As we discussed the issues we had with him I wasn’t sure what was going to had if any. I’m so thankfull that I emailed your section too about the issues we were having in our section. This professor was unreal about everything she did. I watched the video & I’m so happy that person recorded it. My audio recordings are unreal too. I record to help me review the class material from each day, for the first time in my college years I actually was recording for more because of how the profesor was treating me & fellow students. Its sad that it came out the way it did, yet I’m so thankful that UAA took action for once & swiftly. This university says its military friendly yet its not in so many ways. Being a veteran it can be a battle too, yet its even more of a battle for our current soldiers. Its nice that we have athletes & student government, yes they juggle alot & work hard, yet this is all while our American soldiers are putting their lives at stake to fight for our country & freedom just so those athletes & student government can play another game or have another meeting while being excused to do those things, UAA says no problem. Yet our soldiers our fighting for us & thats not a good enough reason to be excused but a out of state hockey or basketball game is? Really UAA? Maybe we should make a stand & stop attending these events to make a point. Please UAA stop avoiding the issue & making excuses & just start doing now!
    To all students, never be afraid to step up & say something I’d you are having legitimate issues with professors. Start with the professor first & then go from there. Thank you!

  14. Is English Tovar’s first language? That’s a funny question from a professor with a name that’s impossible to pronounce.

  15. I attended UAA in the 90’s and graduated with a B.S. and double major in 1997. I was enlisted in the Alaska National Guard as a traditional “one weekend per month” guardsman during this time. I never felt any particular support OR discrimination at UAA for my military service, but I did find zero support or tolerance for active duty assignments which fell during the school year. On every occasion where I needed to take time away from school for a military obligation such as a required school or my two week annual training was met with opposition and reluctance from professors to accomodate this. I just accepted this at the time, passed on military training opportunities more than once which would have enhanced a military career, and stuck with school. I found the National Guard to be much more accomodating, flexible, and understanding than UAA.

  16. I teach business Law I & II (BA241 & 242 and JUST241 & 242) at MatSu College. I have had several Vets and active reservist in my classes. We will accommodate our military personnel in any way possible. Thank you for your service to our nation. Some military folks in my classes have made huge sacrifices. We honor those who have served!

    Alden, good job on the article. Thanks, Dan

  17. How very unprofessional for an educator to publish a personal email between her and a student, in front of an entire class. I fully support military students as I am a veteran, and also fully support UAA’s decision to strip this professor of her credentials.

  18. What a shame. Finally a blatant example of abuse of power from a faculty member. Why does there have to be such overwhelming evidence of abuse of power in order for professors to perform properly. Most of the department chairs are also unacceptable. They do nothing but cover for their employees so that their department does not look bad. I am glad it is being worked out in this case. A military member should never have to suffer consiquences for serving their country.

  19. Of course it does not characterize all faculty and staff, but this instance is not the only example of abuse of power I have seen here at UAA. There should not have to be overwhelming evidence for a student to prove abuse, but the system is set up that way. I have had to use it before myself and won. I think the words of a 35 yr old veteran (me) should be just as good as any professors, but they certainly did not carry any weight until I sifted through several emails and presented them to the dean.
    I have absolutely no tolerance for the following:
    Faculty here from a different country stating, “This is how they teach in (insert country).”
    Faculty only teachning to fund their research.
    Department heads that cover for their coworkers.
    Administration fraternizing with professors (no I do not mean sexually)

    Just for the record I was successful in both my military and academic careers.

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