Provost’s Fraternity and Sorority Advisory Board. SAS Quantitative Data Analysis Committee. University Council Committee on Open Expression.
These are all committees that the Nominations and Elections Committee is charged with appointing undergraduates to.
They are also committees whose undergraduate positions have not yet been filled.
Each spring, the NEC interviews undergraduate students who have applied for seats on a number of committees, ranging from the Trustee’s Committee on Budget and Finance to the Student Health Advisory Board (a full listing of the committees can be found on the NEC’s website, www.penn-nec.org). Chances are you didn’t know that.
There are currently five committees that failed to receive undergraduate appointments in the spring semester, so they must be filled in the coming weeks — besides the four mentioned above, the Office of Student Life’s Student Awards Committee and the Alcohol and Tobacco Task Force also have unfilled seats. Whether or not this is due to a complete lack of applicants altogether or a lack of qualified applicants is unclear. Regardless, the fact remains that all of these committees currently lack undergraduate representation.
All of these committees with vacancies are both important and influential. The Fraternity and Sorority Advisory Board has the power to take Greek organizations off probation. Open Expression deals with students’ First Amendment rights. Quantitative Data Analysis chooses which courses fulfill a requirement every College student has to deal with.
So why have these committees gone unfilled?
It seems that a surprisingly low number of students are actually aware of the existence of these committees. This is unfortunate, given the scope of the charges of these bodies.
NEC vice chairman for nominations Ben Moscowitz lamented the fact that undergraduates don’t seem to understand the sort of influence these committees have on the day-to-day operation of the University. “The impact isn’t as well understood as it could be or as it should be. The fact of the matter is there’s a knowledge gap between the knowledge that these committees exist, knowing what they do, and knowing the impact that they have on students’ lives.”
Moscowitz went on to say that, while he believes the NEC has done a good job of educating students about elections and the state of student government, it hasn’t done enough to educate students about these influential committees.
The reality of the situation is that students are missing out on a monumental opportunity. These committees have the power to change policy, and they give undergraduates a chance to do something lasting. Shomik Sarkar, the NEC’s second vice chairman for nominations, says, “I definitely think that the undergraduate students have an impact on the work the committees are doing. They’re able to access administrators and work with them very closely to enact changes with the university on a broad scale. … It’s a great way to get involved and work directly with the administration.”
It’s unclear why students don’t know more about these committees and what they do. Perhaps it’s the fault of the NEC for not spreading the word more widely. Maybe student leaders are to blame for not ensuring that others in their organizations are aware of the opportunity. Or maybe students just don’t care enough.
Regardless, the fact remains that undergraduates at Penn remain woefully ignorant of the opportunity that has been presented to them. Students should be applying for seats on these committees in droves.
In the coming weeks, the NEC will be releasing the application for the remaining committee seats. Take the plunge. Apply. Make your voice heard! It’s rare for a place like Penn to offer undergraduates the opportunity to have such an active role in the policy-making process. Don’t waste it!
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