Around the Ivies: How students shape academic life
Penn's SCUE is the only Ivy League student government branch completely dedicated to academic life
October 14, 2013, 8:11 pm · Updated October 14, 2013, 9:44 pm·
Penn’s Student Committee on Undergraduate Education is unique in the Ivy League for being a distinct branch of the student government completely dedicated to academic life for students.
“At Penn, a lot of the call for new programs and new courses comes from students,” said Rob Nelson, executive director for Education and Academic Planning in the Provost’s Office.
SCUE may be known for its “white papers” — reports on undergraduate academic life that are produced every five years — but its initiatives have also led to the creation of residential/academic programs like the Integrated Studies Program. Currently, SCUE is working with Van Pelt Library to revamp two classrooms as well as with the University to provide student feedback through the reaccreditation process.
Given the committee’s recent academic initiatives, The Daily Pennsylvanian is taking a look at how other schools in the Ivy League are helping shape student academic life.
Cornell’s student government handles anything that pertains to student organizations and student life, according to Cornell student government president and senior Ulysses Smith. However, academic life at Cornell is not covered by a separate branch of student government.
As Smith explains, everything is very decentralized at Cornell. For example, the reaccreditation process for the university is different for each individual undergraduate school, and their student government “plays a minimal role in that.”
“I definitely think student opinion should play more a role in” shaping academic life, Smith added.
Harvard has five committees within their student government, one of which deals specifically with education.
According to Harvard student government president and senior Tara Raghuveer, the education committee has in the past worked on drafting an honor code and making a database of all of the teaching fellows at this school.
It’s “really at the discretion of the education chair … to decide which projects they’re going to spend time on,” Raghuveer said.
Currently they are looking at helping the Women, Gender and Sexuality study program to become its own department.
“I think both parties really have to carry to onus of improving the academic experience. It could be a very positive reinforcing relationship between faculty and students,“ Raghuveer said.
Brown’s Undergraduate Council of Students is made up of several committees, including one devoted to academic affairs. The body has a say in the undergraduate curriculum, according to Brown student government president and senior Todd Harris.
Similar to SCUE, Brown’s academic affairs committee has worked on creating a handbook for incoming freshman on how to navigate Brown’s open curriculum.
Harris added that the committee has also worked to expand the number of undergraduates on the university resources committee, which sets budgets for the university.
Like Brown, Princeton’s Student Government Senate has a committee dedicated to academic life. Members of the academic subcommittee sit on the faculty committees, which determine undergraduate courses of study as well as admissions policies, according to Princeton senior and academic chair Dillon Sharpe.
One policy recommendation that Sharpe’s committee has been working on recently is to ensure that students never have an exam at night followed by another exam the next morning.
The student government successfully recommended a change to the academic calendar so that no class would be held the Wednesday before Thanksgiving break.
However, Sharpe notes that “at the end of the day, if the faculty doesn’t want it to happen here, it’s probably not going to happen…The faculty does hold a lot of power here.”