Are you frustrated by the lack of silverware in 1920 Commons? Think Hill needs air conditioning? This might sound like the beginning of a freshman's campaign speech for student government, but don't worry, it's not. The UA has (yet another) survey out, and this time, they want to know ... well, what you want.
Earlier this month, the Undergraduate Assembly released a survey of undergraduate priorities. This extremely broad survey gives students the opportunity to tell the UA what they think should be on their agenda, whereas typical UA surveys focus on more-specific projects. But it's doubtful that the survey of undergraduate priorities will significantly change what the UA does, and their efforts would be better directed toward finishing the projects already in the works.
The survey has a list of project ideas, including topics like the course registration process, academic-advising services and availability of study space. Students rank these on a scale of one to five, one being very low priority and five as very high priority. Additionally, there's an open-ended section in which students can write in projects and ideas they'd like the UA to address.
"The survey is more of a supplement to what we're already doing," UA chairman Wilson Tong said. "Most projects are generated by members themselves, but there may be things that we're missing."
Maybe it's just me, but I don't see how people elected by undergraduate students and who are very passionate about Penn might overlook a significant priority of undergraduate students. If they could manage that, I doubt they would be re-elected as representatives. And as a final safety net, there's always UA Steering, comprised of student leaders not in the UA, to keep the agenda on track and catered to student interests.
Additionally, it's almost guaranteed that issues like housing and dining-hall problems will always be considered high priority. But knowing that students rank these as the most important won't do anything to speed up work on these issues.
A good example of this is the initiative to extend the move-out deadline. It's a tangible change that could make a lot of students' lives a little easier, but it's been in the works since the beginning of the academic year. Its delay isn't due to a lack of diligence on the UA's part; rather, it's the time-consuming aspects of coordinating various groups within the University to accommodate the change. Diverting members' attention with a survey won't help either.
The response rate is another large roadblock. It's hard to get an accurate idea of what students want if the sample isn't representative.
"[The survey] would give us a better picture of undergraduate priorities if their survey had statistical validity," wrote UA member Alec Webley in an e-mail. He continued by saying that due to numerous problems, "the survey cannot be generalized to anyone but the people who took it."
Still, the UA is "trying to get as many students to take the survey as possible," said Tong, who added that "around 700 is what our most popular surveys max out at."
The population within that number is also largely skewed toward the freshman class, which could be a good or bad thing. Since the survey is meant to influence UA agenda in following years, it's good that the students who will be around to see those changes are responding. On the other hand, upperclassmen might be able to give more informed answers given their experience.
The intentions behind this survey are undoubtedly good. If nothing else, the survey shows the UA's commitment to increasing its relevance to students, something the assembly has given a lot of attention to recently. The Open Forum, which allows individuals to voice their concerns during meetings, has been met with mixed reviews but has increased the number of voices at UA meetings, most notedly with the Chinatown-casino debate last semester.
But despite these good intentions, the logistics of the survey digress from the UA's goal of making tangible change. The UA traditionally has its greatest success in small but substantial changes, like the airport shuttles or readership program, and the need for these initiatives was apparent without a broad survey of undergrads. Tangible change comes from the ground up, and if students feel strongly enough about issues the UA isn't addressing, they'll come forward to address it themselves rather than ranking it five on an electronic survey.
Katherine Rea is a College sophomore from Saratoga, Calif. Rea-lity Check appears on alternating Fridays. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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