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UCS sets agenda items for spring semester

Council plans to address advising, coal divestment, increased Corporation transparency

Following its first general body meeting of the semester this past Wednesday, the Undergraduate Council of Students is preparing to pursue several projects this spring, including addressing lingering student concerns about coal divestment and facilitating President Christina Paxson’s internship initiative.

The Council is focused on continuing “the conversations that got started … last semester,” said UCS President Todd Harris ’14.5.

The “big issue” to be addressed from last semester is the controversy over divestiture from major coal companies and the subsequent student demand to be more informed of Corporation decisions, Harris said.

Brown Divest Coal wrote a letter to Paxson demanding more information about young alumni trustee positions, notes and minutes from Corporation meetings and increased transparency about University decisions, Harris said. The Council will invite Corporation members and administrators who are knowledgeable about those issues to speak at either UCS meetings or other student events, he said.

Paxson’s recent announcement about student internships will also affect the Council’s agenda, said UCS Vice President Sam Gilman ’15. Last week at a White House summit on higher education, Paxson made public that all undergraduates on need-based financial aid will be funded for one unpaid internship or research opportunity in their time at Brown by 2018.

“I think UCS’ role is to facilitate conversations between students and the administration, and also to help get the word out about the different internship opportunities as the president launches her internship initiative,” said Gilman, adding that improving access to internships has long been on the Council’s radar. “As the president starts scaling out her internship effort, I’m sure that we will be working to coordinate student leaders in that effort, and trying to set up different pieces of it.”

The Academic and Administrative Affairs committee will also aim to assess undergraduate advising programs, said committee chair Maahika Srinivasan ’15. The committee will rely on information gathered from the strategic planning process as well as the UCS Fall Poll sent out to undergraduates.

Though the committee anticipated issues in first-year advising, it also found “a huge gap in what’s going on with sophomores,” Srinivasan said. Sophomores undergo “a transition between … a very specific, defined network of advisers” as first-years to choosing concentration advisers the next year, she said.

“We need to take three steps back and look and see if we can do … a systematic evaluation of all our advising programs right now,” she said, “because we’ve got a lot, but we don’t necessarily know how effective they are, and we also don’t have a great model of measuring how effective they are.”

The committee is also focusing on writing a transitional memo for the incoming dean of the College, which will outline key student opinions, Srinivasan said. The memo “really is a way for UCS to articulate on behalf of the student body what we think that the new dean of the College should be paying specific attention to,” she said.

The Admissions and Student Services committee will try to tackle several online and wireless projects, said Sazzy Gourley ’16, committee chair. Committee members will work with Computing and Information Services to increase Brown-Secure’s reliability and create an instructional video that explains wireless printing, he said. They will also aim to combine various academic resources into one website, he added.

“From ASK to Banner … we’re hoping to put (different hubs) into one centralized thing so that it’s easy for students to see where they need to go for various resources, rather than the current A-to-Z list,” he said.

The committee will also pursue smaller projects related to financial aid, such as “continuing to work with admissions on our outreach program that we did last semester … (and) making sure that their programming is more reflective of the information that students need to better understand the financial aid program at Brown,” Gourley said, referencing hopes to adapt financial aid literacy programs for current students.

Other smaller plans for the Council include facilitating the implementation of Ventfull, an online campus calendar that would supplement Morning Mail to inform students about campus events, and working on improving voter registration. Though the program’s specifics are not yet final, “the idea is to bring together a coalition — some of the political groups and the non-political UCS ­— to make sure that voter registrations are as accessible as possible,” Gilman said.

The Council will also plan to continue its tradition of holding UCS Week in March, in which UCS sponsors administrative lectures and entertaining events, Harris said.

Council members will also work to hold the second annual Brown/RISD Lawn Party in April, “where we close down Benefit Street for a day, put grass down and just have a concert and a celebration for the two schools to come together,” Gilman said.

Applications for the Initiatives Fund, a section of the UCS budget reserved for supporting new student ideas and projects, will soon open up as well, he said.


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