Student opinion on UCS remains mixed

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Students still don’t have much of an opinion about the Undergraduate Council of Students, a recent Herald poll found.

The poll found that 39.6 percent of students strongly or somewhat approve of UCS, virtually unchanged from 39.3 percent last semester, while 35.1 percent didn’t know or had no answer, also similar to last semester’s 31.6 percent.

The Herald poll was conducted from March 12 to March 14 and has a 3.6 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. A total of 643 Brown undergraduates completed the poll, which was administered as a written questionnaire to students in the University Post Office at Faunce House and in the Sciences Library.

The poll found that 4.8 percent of students strongly approved of UCS, while 34.8 percent somewhat approved. On the negative side, 18.8 percent somewhat disapproved and 6.4 percent strongly disapproved. 35.1 percent didn’t know or had no answer.

“I don’t really read into these too much at all,” said UCS President Michael Glassman ’09. “I don’t think there’s a significant enough change, saying we did something really well or something bad.”

Glassman said the result “more reflects our communications and the fact that (students) don’t know what we’re doing.”

UCS “always struggles” with informing the student body about its actions, he said.

“A lot of people don’t know and should know specifics about the projects we’re working on,” he said.

Glassman said he would have expected the numbers to increase slightly from last semester, since students have had more chances to be exposed to UCS. But he didn’t “think that reflects too much at all,” he added.

Clay Wertheimer ’10, at-large representative and chair of the UCS Assessment Task Force, said the task force’s proposals to reform UCS could help interest more students in the council. The task force proposed abolishing class representatives and allowing anyone to join UCS by collecting signatures and attending two meetings. The student body will be able to cast online votes on the changes later this month.

The task force is “very much aware that in the status quo UCS is either not very well known or not very supported,” Wertheimer said. “Our hope is that we’re going to be changing those numbers.”

“We’re trying to make it easier for people to get involved,” he added.

He added that UCS needs to take more visible credit for its successes, such as the DVD collection in the Friedman Study Center and the flex meal plan.

Students agreed that UCS could do a better job informing the student body about its actions. “I think a lot of people don’t really understand what UCS does,” said Emily Tursack ’11, adding that UCS doesn’t make itself “well-known.”

“It’s just hard to have communication between the student body and UCS,” she said.

The poll results are “just saying they don’t have that much of an impact” on student life, said Jordan DePetrillo ’11. But DePetrillo added that he didn’t think UCS was “letting us down” by not informing students of its efforts. “If they’re doing stuff that affects us in a good way, do we still need to know about it?”

Glassman also said part of the problem is that much of UCS’s work isn’t controversial. “I can barely remember anything that we take a controversial stance on within the student body,” he said.

In general, he said, UCS’s actions are “not something to disapprove of,” referring to UCS members as “members of a club that instead of doing something else is working on making Brown better.”

Kelly Trout ’08 agreed that UCS’s actions rarely make headlines. “I guess sometimes I’ve had the impression that UCS isn’t involved in that many critical decisions that affect me,” she said.

Evan Alterman ’08 said UCS seems “distant” from the student body. “I guess the biggest impact they’ve had was during the whole plus-minus debacle,” he said, referring to a 2005 College Curriculum Council proposal to add pluses and minuses to the University’s grading system, which UCS strongly opposed.

Glassman said UCS has “limited manpower” compared to other student governments, impairing its communications efforts.

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