COUNCIL 2004-05 Year-End Committee Report
Quality of Student Life
The Quality of Student Life Committee (QSLC), the composition of which is listed below, met monthly throughout the year to address five specific charges, as quoted below.
1. The College House System—Continue to evaluate the role of Penn’s College House system in integrating academic and student life programs and services: After consulting with other knowledgeable people and bringing the knowledge of QSLC members to bear, the Committee concluded that Penn’s eleven College Houses generally are doing a good job with regard to academic advising and other student support services (such as tutoring, computer support, and research assistance). The Critical Writing Fellow in Residence Program, now in its second year as a pilot in two of the houses, has been quite successful and should be expanded to the other houses as rapidly as is feasible. Some good steps were taken in 2004-05 to better share information on activities and programs among the houses, mostly through development of interconnections among the individual houses’ websites and email listservs. Still, more can and should be done to assure that there is an integrated network of programs open to all Penn students regardless of where they originate—but without undermining the uniqueness and separate identity of the houses and their sense of ownership of particular programs and activities. Because of the centrality of the College House system to the undergraduate experience, QSLC recommends that this item be continued as a charge for next year’s committee.
2. Oversight of non-affiliated student groups—Investigate mechanisms by which some form of oversight can be instituted on non-affiliated student groups on campus: There has been ongoing concern about the activities of various student organizations that are not officially recognized by the University and, thus, are not subject to oversight or regulation by the Undergraduate Assembly, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, or some other University body. [Examples of such organizations are the Owl and Tabard societies, mentioned here not to point an accusing finger but because they are established and visible examples of non-affiliated groups.] These organizations sometimes engage in activities and practices that can be hurtful to the individuals involved and could be harmful to the University’s reputation and/or give rise to liability. Obviously, the risk exposure calls for a careful approach, balancing University involvement to try to avoid harm with the desire to maintain distance from activities that the University is not in a good position to monitor and control. QSLC sought input from various representatives of the University administration and gave it considerable thought, concluding that non-affiliated groups should be held to the same standards of safety and good conduct as Greek organizations and UA-affiliated clubs and activities. However, since the University provides no support to the non-affiliated groups, it doesn’t have the same kind of “carrot and stick” power over them and needs to consider other ways of gaining and maintaining their cooperation. While QSLC believes that this issue is important, our fairly lengthy deliberations on this subject yielded little in the way of concrete ideas for addressing it. In the absence of some additional input or guidance from the Administration, we don’t see what contribution next year’s committee could make on this subject; therefore, we do not recommend that this charge be continued for next year.
3. Advising Network–Follow up on 2003-04 QSLC Committee recommendations on the advising network available to undergraduates: The general (but not universal) sense of the Committee was that the undergraduate advising network has been improving, in significant part because of the contributions of the College Houses, which have taken on greater responsibility through the Wheel activities administered through the Houses. We recommend that next year’s committee follow up to make sure things continue to go in the right direction.
4. Spring Fling–Review Spring Fling: Although this was the shortest and least specific charge given to QSLC this year, it occupied the most time and attention and generated the most controversy. Spring Fling, a Penn tradition, continues to be a bone of contention and a concern for both students and administration, with people in both groups coming down on both the pro and con sides of this annual event. The potential for student misbehavior continues to make Spring Fling (and Hey Day) significant issues. In particular, many question whether either or both of these traditional events should be continued into the future—at least, not without substantial change.
We spent considerable time gathering input from interested parties on both sides of the issue and debating at length such issues as the positive and negative implications of continuing the tradition, the duration and venue for 2005 Fling activities, restrictions to be imposed on student activities, sanctions that might feasibly be imposed and enforced for various kinds of misbehavior, etc. QSLC had relatively little impact, we feel, on how Fling went this year. Because Fling is such an entrenched part of Penn student life, student plans for conducting and promoting it and administration arrangements for dealing with it become relatively set much in advance of the April date of the event. This year, the opportunity to effect changes in either the concept or the implementation details of Fling–even if the Committee had been able to agree on advisable changes–was limited because the new Administration was reluctant, understandably, to make major changes in President Gutmann’s first year.
We recommend that next year’s QSLC take up the issue of both Spring Fling and Hey Day early in the academic year by gathering and reviewing reports from the 2005 Fling and Hey Day celebrations. If the Committee feels that these events went well in 2005 and that prospects for their being handled appropriately in 2006 are good, QSLC need pay no further attention to these issues. If, on the other hand, there is evidence that Fling continues to be problematic, the Committee should consider ways to:
• Achieve more faculty/staff involvement and visibility during Fling
• Engage the University community in discussion of Fling before the event to further raise awareness of what a “Good Fling” would be and foster more responsible behavior
• Limit the number of people in given student rooms during Fling activities
• Consider an alternate venue for Fling’s main activities. Use of the Quad for the two-day festival has some obvious (albeit debatable) advantages, including tradition, but puts a disproportionate burden for the University’s party weekend on the residents and staff of the Quad.
Looking toward the longer term, we recommend that QSLC keep this item on its agenda, with an eye toward an evolutionary shift toward a different focus for Fling–away from drinking and revelry and toward more uplifting (but still fun) activities. Fling offers an opportunity for lighthearted music, art, and entertainment activities that have cultural merit and that showcase the broad talents of Penn students. Fling also offers an opportunity to reach out into the adjoining communities and take advantage of their talents and interest in being a part of the expanding Penn community.
5. University-owned and–affiliated housing–Investigate (i) the quantity, quality and variety of University-owned and University-affiliated off-campus housing and (ii) the availability and cost of child care for children of graduate students: This important area deserves further attention. The Committee’s inquiry was limited by lack of time and the fact that the University’s Office of Real Estate Development was finalizing its public announcement of plans for development in the 3900 block of Walnut Street. This charge should be carried over to next year’s QSLC agenda, we believe.
At the suggestion of its GAPSA representative, QSLC inquired into the possibility of extending the University’s mortgage guarantee program to a carefully selected subset of graduate students–those who can reasonably be expected to be at Penn for a long enough time and who have family incomes adequate to meet the guarantee program’s strict financial security standards. The Committee’s chair met with a senior staff member of the University’s Office of Real Estate Development and talked with others knowledgeable about the guarantee program and about the University’s plans and aspirations for improving the housing situation in the University City area. It appears the University would be open to considering an expansion of the mortgage guarantee program–albeit on a limited and financially conservative basis–and, further, that the University has in the works some exciting plans for increasing the quality housing stock in the immediate University area. This, too, is an issue that next year’s Committee should consider.
Finally, the committee notes that in the past few years (at least) graduate student issues have tended to receive less attention than issues of primary relevance to the undergraduates. We feel this imbalance should be rectified next year by giving higher prominence to the graduate-relevant issues on the Committee’s charge list, giving the Committee a general instruction to pay more attention to graduate student issues, or possibly establishing a new committee charged to address graduate student issues more directly. Some members of the committee voiced reservations about the feasibility and advisability of the last option.
2004-05 Quality of Student Life members:
Chair: Arnold J. Rosoff Faculty: Ann Brownlee, Art History; Zoltan Domotor, Philosophy; Robert Giegengack, Earth and Environmental Science; M. Katherine Hutchinson, Nursing; Deborah Linebarger, Annenberg; Andrew Postlewaite, Economics; Henry Teune, Political Science Graduate Students: Greg Cooper, Law; Lauren Feldman, Engineering; Rita Powell, CIS; Undergraduate Students: Jordan Dubnow, COL ’05; Rachel Fersh, COL ’06; Jonathan Zatz, COL ’06; PPSA: Stephanie Ives, Alcohol Policy Initiative; Katherine Lowe, Alumni Relations; Ex Officio: Terry Conn, Office of Vice Provost for University Life.
Almanac, Vol. 52, No. 10, November 1, 2005
November 1, 2005
Volume 52 Number 10