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Poll: Most report no opinion on UCS

Despite UCS efforts to increase visibility and student involvement, polling detected apathy

A majority of students — 56 percent ­— have no opinion on how the Undergraduate Council of Students is handling its job, according to a Herald poll conducted Sept. 30 to Oct. 1.

Students who did have an opinion tended to approve of the Council’s job performance, with 23 percent of poll respondents somewhat approving of UCS and 7 percent expressing strong approval. The Council’s approval rating — 30 percent — fell from 38 percent the last time The Herald polled undergraduates on the question in fall 2011.

Six percent of students said they somewhat disapproved of UCS’ job performance, while 2 percent strongly disapproved. Six percent of poll respondents indicated that they did not know what the organization UCS was.

The poll results showed a correlation between students’ opinions of UCS and of administrative initiatives. Students who had no opinion of UCS’ job performance also tended to have no opinion of President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan, released last month and approved by the Corporation this weekend.

UCS leaders said they have actively engaged with students this year to increase awareness of the body’s work.

The council conducted its own survey of undergraduates this month. The Herald poll, which was taken one week prior to a UCS poll, “was conducted before we made that big push to get students involved,” said UCS President Todd Harris ’14.5.

Some students said they don’t know much about UCS’ current work but expressed mild approval of the body.

Harjasleen Malvai ’17 said she is somewhat aware of what UCS does but added that the difference between UCS and the Class Coordinating Boards ­— which organize class year-specific activities ­— is sometimes confusing.

UCS could also do a better job raising awareness about its work, Malvai said.

But Malvai added that UCS’ failure to extensively promote its work could indicate the body is focused on the details of student governance. Perhaps “that means they’re actually doing their job rather than just talking about it,” she said.

“I don’t think the actions of UCS are always incredibly visible,” said Alex Mechanick ’15, president of Brown for Financial Aid. UCS initiatives such as campus events or the distribution of laptop chargers in libraries are often more publicized than some of the body’s more “serious” work with administrators and the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, he added.

But UCS has been innovative this year in engaging with students, Mechanick said. “They’ve done a fantastic job,” he said. “They just keep on coming up with more ways for students to get involved and be in contact.”

UCS leaders frequently communicate with University Hall about undergraduates’ priorities, said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15. “We really have used them each year as a conduit between the administration and the student body,” he said.

Administrators revised the strategic plan after UCS provided students’ feedback from the body’s poll this month, Schlissel said.

“UCS officers and the student poll told us that we should have been more explicit in the plan about our commitment to undergraduate advising, so we made an addition to the plan to sharpen the focus of undergraduate advising,” Schlissel said.

Paxson also incorporated the University’s mission statement into the plan after hearing feedback from UCS that some students were concerned about the original draft’s omission of the phrase “university college” to describe Brown, Schlissel said.

UCS has made a greater effort this year to reach out to students, “providing different forums for students to engage in giving feedback on campus,” said UCS Vice President Sam Gilman ’15.

A substantial number of students have responded to UCS’ public outreach efforts this year, Gilman said. “The number of students that have come to forums and sent in feedback stands on its own.”

Harris also cited UCS’ efforts to involve students in the strategic plan feedback process, saying that members knocked on students’ doors in residence halls and approached people in the Blue Room to encourage them to complete the UCS poll, which addressed issues such as financial aid, student priorities and campus life in the strategic plan. Students could also rank top priorities for administrators to focus on, The Herald previously reported.

Harris sent an email to the student body Oct. 24 announcing that UCS had compiled an undergraduate feedback report from data collected from four campus-wide forums, a Google form and the body’s fall poll. Forty-two percent of the undergraduate student body — 2,724 students — responded to the UCS poll, which has traditionally been a major way the body solicits feedback from students, he said.

UCS members presented the feedback report to Corporation members during its meeting last weekend, The Herald previously reported.

UCS works to connect students with resources, Gilman said, noting that students can meet personally with deans and administrators. “One of the beautiful things about Brown is that we actually do have an administration that listens to us and there are multiple avenues for students to be heard,” he said.

Some students said apathy toward UCS can stem from perceptions that the body does not make a substantial difference in University governance.

“Some people get frustrated because they don’t understand all the reasons behind why we can’t have certain changes,” said Jameson Snead ’16.

But he added that UCS does “a pretty good job of representing student interest and trying to communicate that to the University.”


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