I am a graduate student instructor (GSI)
As a GSI interacting with students, faculty and staff in U-M's many classrooms, labs and offices, there are numerous legal obligations that can impact on your University life. It is especially important that you understand how these obligations affect your multiple roles - as a U-M employee and educator on one hand, and as a student and researcher on the other.
The U-M community can only function smoothly and successfully if everyone takes responsibility for their own actions, and treats each other with respect. This includes making sure our actions comply with the law, and with University policies. That is all "compliance" means: learning what the rules are, and being willing to follow them.
As a U-M employee, you are responsible for making sure you conduct your work in accordance with the various legal and regulatory requirements that bind the University. You also serve as the primary interface with students, placing you in a unique position to spot potential issues that arise in the classroom, and to raise them with someone in your Department before they cause bigger problems.
To do your job as a GSI, there are four major compliance areas you need to understand: student records, safety, copyright and the appropriate treatment of students. See also the Classroom Teaching guide for other issues that may be relevant.
1. Student records
All information about a student – such as their personal information, enrollment details, assignments and grades – form part of their "student record", which is protected by a Federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (commonly called “FERPA”). Student records must be handled in accordance with that law by all those who have access to them.
For example: you can't post grades using the student's name or ID number; you need to apply a system when returning student tests and papers to prevent access and/or release to anyone other than the student; and you should password protect spreadsheets that contain student information.
The University has strict obligations to keep its students and employees safe. Never do anything that seems unsafe, and never let anyone else do something that seems unsafe. Some practical things you can do to improve everyone's safety are:
- If your class has laboratory components, make sure you know who your lab’s Safety Coordinator is. Follow all safety procedures and ensure students do the same. Familiarize yourself with general laboratory safety standards. If you see something unsafe and can't find your Safety Coordinator, contact Occupational Safety and Environmental Health (OSEH).
- If you are injured while working, or witness an incident where someone else is injured, you must report it in line with your Department’s normal procedures or to Work Connections.
- Familiarize yourself with the safety and emergency protocols of each of the rooms you teach in – what would you do if an alarm went off in class? Where would you evacuate to? Where's the nearest fire extinguisher?
- Program the Department of Public Safety non-emergency number, (734) 763-1131, into your phone so you know you can call them anytime you need to.
You play an important role in making sure that class materials are legally used and distributed. Make sure you understand the legal limits of how you can and cannot use or hand out materials in your classes (or post them on CTools) by reviewing the U-M Library Copyright Office site on using copyrighted materials.
4. Appropriate treatment of students
Keep your interactions with and treatment of students professional at all times: see the Provost's page on faculty-student relationships for more guidance, including the official Faculty-Student Relationships Policy that applies to GSIs and anyone else supervising students. As an instructor, you must apply the same standards and offer the same opportunities to all students in your class: this includes students in special programs, like athletics. For students with disabilities, you must provide reasonable accommodations to afford them equal opportunity to succeed in the class. The Faculty Handbook developed by Services for Students with Disabilities gives an overview of disabilities that affect learning in a college or university setting and guidance on the adjustments that can be made to accommodate students with disabilities.
As a student employee, you have responsibilities as a student AND as an employee.
Your rights and responsibilities as a student are the same as any other student: see our Student page for a summary of compliance issues relevant to students.
It's important to distinguish between when you are wearing your "student hat" or your "employee hat". For instance, it would be inappropriate to share or use information you learned about a fellow student in your capacity as a GSI, when in another class with that same person as a student yourself.
Your responsibilities as an employee are the same as any other employee, including:
- Disclosing and managing potential conflicts of interest or commitment
- Appropriately handling sensitive or confidential information that you come across in the course of your job - including other students' records.
- Complying with occupational safety and health requirements.
- Going through the necessary steps associated with being hired and getting paid, as summarized on this student employment website.
Your rights as a student employee are also the same as any other University employee. For instance, you have the right to be paid fairly, on time, etc. If you feel that a department is not treating you fairly, contact the Office of the Ombuds, who are there to help answer any questions students have about problems they are having with the University.
If you find yourself in a situation where someone around you might be breaking the law or a policy, or acting in a way that you think is inappropriate or dangerous, speak up about it. Remember, the U-M community can only function at its best if everyone takes responsibility for their own actions - and that means we need to hold those around us to the highest standards.