Peer mentors criticize handling of University Studies review process

Peer mentors will meet Friday with the University Studies Review Committee to express concerns that recommendations for changes to the much-debated University Studies program were made without sufficient input from students.

The committee report contains “discussion points” proposing several significant changes to the University Studies system, including reducing Freshman Inquiry classes from five credits to four credits, eliminating sophomore mentors and adding Writing 121 as an additional requirement.

Freshman Inquiry mentor Ryan Klute and many other peer mentors were surprised to learn about the review when it was released Jan. 9. The mentors said they are mainly concerned with the process by which the suggested changes were identified. Klute said the committee’s failure to consult students points to a larger issue at PSU.

“It’s becoming a culture here on this campus that decisions are made that significantly affect students with very little student feedback,” he said.

Having been involved with student leadership, Klute said he is aware of how committees on campus seek feedback.

“Sometimes things can happen in a vacuum,” he said. He noted that the information provided on the review committee web site listed several experts who were brought in as consultants to the committee. “Not one student was officially invited to share their insight.”

Although Klute is quick to point out that he does not feel that the committee has made any attempt to hide its process. He feels more effort could have been made to reach out to the student community.

“It is a telling fact when a committee meets for six months and never has one student officially come and interact with them,” Klute said. “I know they [faculty senate] have the option to put students on these committees, they just chose not to.”

Although no current University Studies students were consulted before preparing the list of discussion points, Cynthia Brown, chair of the University Studies Review Committee, confirmed that peer mentors were involved in the preliminary discussions. “We did two focus groups with mentors,” she said.

Naomi Marshall, a peer mentor, said she has an issue with specific recommendations on the list of discussion points, but said that they are unsure if those points are still being considered.

“It’s actually really hard to talk about it because at the town hall meeting last week half the discussion points had been revised, but that information hasn’t been released,” Marshall said.

Additionally, Marshall said, the town hall meeting held Jan. 25 was scheduled from 12:30 ?” 2 p.m., during the most heavily attended class times.

Cynthia Brown confirmed that the list of discussion points is currently being revised. Although the University Studies Review Committee web site is also down at the time of writing, this is unrelated to the revisions. According to Brown, “the web site crash was just an inadvertent programming glitch. It should be back up any time now.”

Overall, Klute said he was happy to see the program undergo evaluation. “I hope that positive things come from this evaluation and I ultimately think they will,” he said.

Klute and other mentors will meet with the review committee on Friday for 20 minutes, during which time he hopes to convince them to “put the brakes on a bit,” he said. He and other concerned students have created forms to elicit feedback from students. They have collected 70 comments from students so far.