General Body Meeting

09/16/18

9:00 PM Benjamin Franklin Room, Houston Hall

  1. Roll Call
  2. Open Forum
  3. Old Business
  1. Discussion Papers
  1. Student and Campus Life
  1. GPA Information Project
  1. Equity and Inclusion
  1. Midterm Policies
  1. Reports
  1. President’s Report
  1. Upcoming Administrator Meetings
  2. UA at MERT/DPS Penn Ready Event
  3. National Voter Registration Day
  1. Vice President’s Report
  1. Past Steering Meeting
  2. Makuu Open House
  1. UA Report
  1. Transfer Student Information Session
  2. Committee Meetings
  3. Weekly Project Summary
  4. Fall Election Schedule
  5. Member of the Week
  1. Secretary’s Report
  1. Upcoming Penn Labs Meetings
  1. Project Updates
  1. Academic Initiatives
  1. Starbucks Under Commons Back Room
  1. Communications


Old Business

 Discussion Papers


Student and Campus  Life

GPA Information Project

Authored by: Maher Abdel Samad

Background: Many students at Penn struggle a lot with comparing themselves to others. From personal experience, I’ve noticed a lot of the students I know believe that they have bad grades and aren’t doing well. This is especially common in harder majors like Engineering or natural sciences where professors are often more reluctant to hand out many As. There was an article written by the DP in 2015: “Penn has not recently examined data on school-specific average GPA between its four undergraduate student bodies — in fact, the most recently reported statistics are from 2001. The data from 13 years ago confirm what some students have long suspected: average GPAs differ by school.” These numbers are used commonly by some advisors/students, passed by word of mouth, to indicate a gauge of adequate (average) performance at Penn. However, after speaking with some Systems Engineering faculty members, I gather that in the last 17 years grading scales have changed and that these numbers cannot be doubted.

 

Questions:

  1. Should we lobby the administration to run a more recent data collection survey that can be shared  with advisors/departments so that students can be given more accurate information?

Equity and Inclusion

Midterm Policies

Authored by: Kevin Zhou

 

Background: University’s current policy on midterms is the following: “Instructors [must] be prepared to offer one or more make-up examinations to accommodate any student who is enrolled in a course that meets at the time of the common examination.” But no other rules exist that take into consideration of any special or abnormal circumstances a student may face, such as sickness, religious reasons, emergencies, etc. There is also no maximum number of midterms a student should take in 24 hours.

The rules on final exams, on the other hand, are much more lenient. The PennBook states that “instructors in all courses must be willing to offer a make-up examination to all students who are excused from the final examination” (most instructors will offer make-up exams in the official make-up exam time slot), including reasons such as “illness, a death in the family, for religious observance or some other unusual event”; and that “no student may be required to take more than two final examinations on any calendar day”.

 

Questions:

  1. In 2016-2017, there was a project in the annual report authored by Calvary Rogers, Taylor Becker, and William Kwok regarding “preventing students from taking 3 midterms within 24 hours”. Is anyone aware of follow-up from that?
  2. Also, given that midterms are just as important to one’s overall grade as final exams, would it be reasonable to expand the leniency of make-up midterms policies to better accommodate students?
  1. What are potential drawbacks?


New Business

Reports


President’s Report

  1. Upcoming Administrator Meetings
  1. I am in the process of scheduling the Fall 2018 Cabinet meetings with administrators. We would like to get one additional UA member to attend the meetings if you are available and have a relevant project. The following meetings have been scheduled. Please reach out to me if you are interested in attending any meetings.
  1. President Gutmann - November 1 at 9am
  2. Provost Pritchett and VP for Education Beth Winkelstein - September 28 at 8am
  3. EVP Craig Carnaroli and AVP Tony Sorrentino - October 16 at 8:30am
  4. Business Services - October 10 at 9am
  5. Student Registration and Financial Services - September 25 at 8am
  1. The following meetings have yet to be scheduled, but are planned to take place this semester:
  1. Faculty Senate Tri-Chairs
  2. International Student & Scholar Services
  3. Vice Provost for University Life and SAVP University Life
  4. “Wellness Coalition”: Chief Wellness Officer, CAPS leadership, SHS leadership, Penn Recreation
  1. If you have suggestions on administrators that you think Cabinet ought to meet with, please let me know.
  1. UA at MERT/DPS Penn Ready Event
  1. The UA will be participating with a table in the annual Penn Ready event on September 21st from 12-2pm on the field at 40th and Locust Walk (by the Free Library). We will be distributing pens and Wellness Guides and encouraging students to learn more about safety initiatives on campus. Come by to learn about fire safety and to view the demonstration of why sprinklers are important.
  1. National Voter Registration Day
  1. The UA has been working with the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA), Penn Leads the Vote, the Government and Politics Association, American Constitution Society (Penn Law), and other groups to coordinate efforts for a National Voter Registration Day event. It will take place on College Green from 1-4pm. Come by for free food, swag, to register to vote, and to hear some live performances from student groups!

Vice President’s Report

  1. Past Steering Meeting
  1. On Tuesday, September 11, 2018, we had our first Steering meeting of the semester. First, we heard updates from Dr. Val Cade, Vice Provost for University Life, and Sharon Smith, the newly appointed Associate Vice Provost for University Life. We were also joined by Rev. Will Gipson, the Associate Vice Provost for Equity and Access, and Val's Executive Assistant Kim Bowers.
  1. Makuu Open House
  1. On Thursday, September 13, I spoke on behalf of the UA at the Makuu Open House at the invitation of Brian Peterson, Director of Makuu: The Black Cultural Center. I welcomed freshmen to Penn, explained more about the UA, and made known that we are available to address questions and concerns.

UA Report

  1. Transfer Student Information Session
  1. This past Wednesday the UA held a Transfer Student information session for transfers interested in running for the UA. We had a panel of UA members and discussed the ways transfer can get involved with the UA.
  1. Committee Meetings
  1. I had a chance to visit most of the committee meetings this past week, and everything looks good! Be sure to reach out if you have any questions or concerns.
  1. Weekly Project Summary
  1. Attached to the end of the agendas you can see the weekly project summary. This contains all the projects members are working on and the contact information for those people. This will be updated based on Trello.
  1. Fall Election Schedule
  1. September 20th
  1. Candidates must hand in their petitions to the NEC by 5:00 PM
  2. Candidates meeting is held at 7:00 PM
  1. September 21st
  1. Monetary campaigning starts at 7:00 AM
  1. September 23rd
  1. Midnight Breakfast from 10:00 PM - 12:00 AM
  1. Voting starts at 12:00 AM
  1. September 26th
  1. Voting ends at 5:00 PM
  2. Election results at 8:00 PM
  3. Associate Member Application opens at 9:00 PM
  1. This week’s Member of the Week is ...

Secretary’s Report

  1. Upcoming Penn Labs Meetings
  1. Penn Labs has two new directors, Emily Tan and Dominic Holmes. I am meeting with PennLabs two times this semester. These meetings are set to happen on Monday, October 8th from 8:30am-9:30am, and Friday, November 16th from 8:00am-9:00am. Let me know if you have any questions or topics you would like for me to bring up at these meetings.


Project Updates


Academic Initiatives

 Starbucks Under Commons Back Room

Authored by: Elena Hoffman

In years past, the Starbucks Under Commons would close their back room starting at 11pm. When this was brought up with administrators who sit on the Dining Advisory Board, this made them very upset, as they were not aware this was happening in the first place. One of the administrators subsequently reached out to the Starbucks staff, and the back room is now kept open until 2am (which is when the Starbucks shuts its doors). The administrator told me that if the back room is ever shut down early again, all I had to do was text/call him so he could instruct the staff to keep it open.


Minutes


  1. Roll Call
  1. Stephen from the NEC- NEC liason to the UA
  2. Robert Klopf
  3. Andrew- former UA Secretary  
  4. Kevin Myers (.5)
  1. Open Forum
  1. Arjun: I wanted to get everyone’s thoughts on the recent DP article that stated that students could no longer transfer into Wharton after sophomore year. I think this could affect a lot of people who were already planning to do this.
  1. Simon: To clarify, is this policy saying you can only transfer to Wharton before the end of your sophomore year?
  2. Arjun: From what I understand, yes.
  3. Max: The reasoning behind this is mainly the new Wharton curriculum. Transferring into Wharton later than Sophomore fall could potentially make students extremely behind, which has negative effects.
  4. Ben: Personally, I was planning to do a dual degree, which is why I am taking six credits this semester. After speaking to my advisor, I have found that it’s still possible as a current sophomore because of the uncertainty surrounding this transition.
  5. Daniel: I think it’s basically the curriculum change is the biggest problem. It is kind of ridiculous that Wharton is putting these limitations on students.
  6. Maher: Wharton 101 is not going to be pass/fail after this year. They did not want students coming in a juniors because you miss out on the “Wharton experience” that shapes Wharton students into a certain type of person.
  7. Michael: I think the bigger issue is that Wharton leadership does not communicate effectively with the student body. I think that broader communications with the student body would be extremely beneficial, and that we should definitely take advantage of our Wharton representatives on the UA to push for this change.
  8. Kev: Are you sure that current sophomores would still be able to apply to transfer?
  9. Arjun: From what I understand, yes.
  1. Elena: Maria sent out the link to the survey regarding Huntsman’s new hours. If everyone could fill that out, it would be extremely helpful.
  2. Jess: Is there a deadline?
  3. Elena: Next GBM, please.
  4. Michael: Fill out the survey. The more data we have, the more representative the results will be. While you’re filling out that survey, make sure to fill out the AVEN survey I talked about last GBM as well.
  1. Old Business
  1. Discussion Papers
  1. Student and Campus Life
  1. GPA Information Project
  1. Maher: Penn has not published research on the average GPA of a Penn student since 2001. I am pushing administration to conduct and publish new research for GPA information by school and major. I feel as though a lot of students are constantly stressed about their GPA and where they stand within their school and major.
  1. Elana: Some of the reasons for administrative pushback could be that students that are below the average would feel discouraged, and students who are average would not feel the need to try any harder.
  2. Maher: The average Penn student is successful. I think that students knowing where they stand amongst their peers could limit the amount of students striving for perfection and reduce stress.
  3. Ben: I am curious about the amount of research you’ve done in comparing Penn to our partner universities. It is widely known that Penn has deflated GPAs, and a potential drawback could be that publishing Penn’s comparatively low GPA could deter people from applying.
  4. Maher: This could actually have the opposite effect in that it might help students because companies would know the average and base their judgements on that.
  5. Kevin: I would offer some advice if you decide to pursue this idea: you should make sure there is a very clear purpose of why you would want to publish this information. This means that you will need to conduct research supporting your reasoning, and presenting a problem that calls for administrative attention. You may want to make your own survey regarding people’s  thoughts on the topic, specifically what they think about their GPAs in comparison to others.
  6. Max: You should definitely compile information from our peer institutions. I would also recommend reaching out to the four deans of the undergraduate schools and the dean of admissions to ask why they are against publishing this information. It is also important to keep in mind that oyu would be making half of the student body feel better about themselves, while making the other half feel worse.
  7. Michael: There is value in understanding where people fall and general trends. It would also be interesting to understand how inflation and deflation works here at Penn. It could be that certain departments are curving to a lower average and this could reveal what effect that has on students.
  8. Maher: The inspiration for this project came from hearing multiple students complain about not knowing their if their GPA was good in comparison to others, or hearing others complain about not knowing where they stand. I feel like this would be beneficial to everyone involved.
  9. Kayla: I know that there are Med School admissions data that is available by PennKey, so that would keep discretion in regards to the earlier point about potential employers.
  10. Jordan: I think that this could create a conversation around mental health and academic structure here at Penn. I think that it could open students’ understanding of  comparing themselves to people in different programs or different schools as opposed to comparing themselves to those who are doing similar majors in the same department.
  11. Natasha: I think it’s concerning that internally they don’t have this data because it could be very telling of Penn’s academic structure. Also, if those numbers are out there on a website, it should be updated because it is misrepresentative of Penn at this point.
  12. Maher: The information was from 2001, but the DP wrote the article in 2015.
  13. Ben: Research from other schools similar to Penn have all released their GPA information, which reflects both grade inflation and deflation. I think that doing more research into this would potentially change the academic structure here at Penn, which would benefit overall mental health a lot more than changing Huntsman hours.
  14. Elena: Overall, I think we have grade inflation in comparison to other institutions outside of the Ivy League.
  15. Maher: Considering Penn strives for excellence in every way, can you really compare Penn to the average institution?
  16. Ammar: I think that grade structure is very departmental, which causes a higher degree mental health related issues in those departments. This could be very revealing.
  17. Daniel: The majority, if not all, of Penn was in the top 10% of their high school class. Considering that 90% of these students are no longer in that position, there is definitely a lot of mental health issues directly connected to the academics here. There is a lot of beating around the bush when it comes to mental health, so I think we should attack this head on.
  18. Michael: I wanted to mention that if you're releasing this data, I would release a range, not just a single point. I think we should make sure we are substantiating data about grade inflation and deflation at Penn. I would even consider working with a professor who teaches a large classes that are curved down as an experiment to see how the class would run smoother without a curve.
  19. Elena: By peer institutions, I meant schools that are highly selective but not necessarily in the Ivy League. I think the curve can be beneficial in certain cases when students would have ordinarily failed an exam and the curve helps. I think it would be nice to experiment in a class that is typically curved down.
  20. Maher: This will not be a problem considering most classes I have taken have curved down.
  1. Equity and Inclusion
  1. Midterm Policies
  1. Kev: Midterms are way less lenient about accommodations. I feel like it is reasonable to conclude that we should be able to include more specific policies regarding midterms at Penn.
  2. Ben: There was a class that told me if I could not take the midterm at the given date, i could not take the class. I am supportive of this idea because of religious holidays, professional occurrences, and leadership opportunities that we, as students, sometimes cannot turn down.  
  3. Kevin: I see that you referenced a project of mine. To give context, a lot of the academic initiatives projects from that session did not really go anywhere.
  4. Michael: This would be a good project to look into considering it probably affects a lot of people. In addition, there is a list of dates for religious holidays that tests or assignments can not be scheduled on available online to students. If a professor ever tries to make you take a test or submit an assignment on one of these dates, report it and go to your advisor about the situation to get it taken care of.
  5. Natasha: Personally, I did not know that these were the university’s current policies. I think doing research into how strictly these policies are enforced and publishing these resources to the student body is really important moving forward.
  6. Kevin: The current policy is that they shouldn’t give you a midterm if you have an approved conflict.
  7. Sravya: I wonder how our peer institutions handle these situations, or schedule their midterms throughout the year.
  8. Maher: The university is not supposed to schedule exams on these holidays. If you go to your advisor, then to the department head, it is a difficult battle, but it can be done.
  9. Maria: How many people is this currently affecting? I feel like the university should have a clear definition of what a midterm is. Sometimes the midterm is equivalent to the final. I think this goes with the project idea about extending Huntsman hours during midterm season as well.
  10. Kev: It is kind of easy to know what a midterm is and push back against administration on this issue.
  11. Brian: I would encourage you to do research and make more students aware of current policies.
  12. Elena: This presents a health issue because professors will require ill students to attend class, which puts other students at risk. In regards to religious minority, I am a part of a religious minority, and I do not even try to get excused from exams or assginments. I think that the university should open the opportunity to students to submit their holidays in advance. Other universities have set weeks that are midterm weeks, which I feel is reasonable and effective. It would be great if the school or individual departments could work on centralizing the midterm season.
  13. Max: It is listed under the policy of secular and religious holidays on the website. Daniel is compiling all of this information, so i would definitely have quantitative data if you are thinking about presenting this to administrators.
  14. Kevin: The biggest pushback that you will get is that it will be a runaway issue, but it is important to emphasize that the exceptions are important and would not be terribly difficult to accommodate.
  15. Kev: I think it would be beneficial to the few students that are affected, and i honestly believe that there are more than a few students who are affected by this current system.
  16. Michael: There are a number of departments where you are allowed to drop a midterm and re-weight the other midterms. Also, it is worth mentioning that there is no reason to have a due date for papers. Professors need to be more flexible about these issues.
  17. Ammar: It would be cool to have a percentage definition for midterms. If you define it as a percentage, it could be easier
  18. Ben: For classes that are quantitative, it is beneficial to have more midterms because they count way less and reduce stress significantly.
  19. Arjun: I think that quantitative classes do a great job of making sure students keep up with the class. I think it is ridiculous that it's the beginning of the semester, and I have midterms starting already. I think there should be a better system, like having a mid-finals week or two, or simply setting aside a week specifically for midterms.
  20. Sravya: I wonder if the term “midterm” causes additional stress for current freshman coming from high school where midterms seemed much more intimidating, but there was only one of them. I wonder if changing the term “midterm” to “exam” would be beneficial.
  21. Jess: I would address these on a school-by-school basis. Each school does things differently.
  22. Ben: In certain classes, there are called quizzes, but are still counted just as much as a midterm. It could be beneficial to look into if the word choice means that the professor no longer has to follow the rules of a midterm.
  23. Brian: I encourage everyone to think about what they want to say about each topic before raising their hand to be added to the queue. This would make the meetings more efficient, and each person would be able to speak in one turn.
  1. Reports
  1. President’s Report
  1. Upcoming Administrator Meetings
  1. Michael: Cabinet meets with a lot of admins to present information and current projects relevant to their field. We are trying to have a couple of meetings with the “wellness coalition” that includes all of the major mental health groups on campus to discuss how we can best engage students in the topic of mental health.
  2. Priya: Does Penn Dining fall under business services?
  3. Michael: Yes, Also, please bring up relevant information and questions and we can bring these up in cabinet meetings. We are also hoping to be able to reach out to various members of the UA body to join us at some of these meetings that fit the current project they are working on.
  4. Brian: We will compile a list with names and locations for your reference.
  1. UA at MERT/DPS Penn Ready Event
  1. Michael: This event is next friday from 12-2. They will present about the necessity of having sprinkler in your room. We will have a table distributing wellness guides and pens.
  1. National Voter Registration Day
  1. Michael: UA is working with GAPSA and a number of campus partners to plan a Penn Leads voter registration and a kick off for voting initiatives with food, t-shirts, and performances from various Penn performing arts groups.
  2. Maria: I am curious about if this event is targeted towards those who are registered to vote in Pennsylvania.
  3. Michael: We are working with the Andrew Goodman Foundation which provides a lot of information about to cast an absentee ballot for your hometown.
  4. Natasha: I thinks it is an event targeted for people from everywhere.
  5. Jordan: We should have info about how to apply for absentee ballot available at our table.
  6. Michael: That is a good call. All of that info is on the Andrew Goodman Foundation website, so we can definitely have that available.
  1. Vice President’s Report
  1. Past Steering Meeting
  1. Jordan: We had steering this past Tuesday. Thanks to everyone who came out! We had a lot of guests from VPUL, and we also had a great session on how we are going to define each coalition, and the direction of Steering in general.
  1. Makuu Open House
  1. Jordan: On Thursday, I spoke on behalf of t the UA at the Makuu event which was a great way to demonstrate our support for this community.
  1. UA Report
  1. Transfer Student Information Session
  1. Brian: We held transfer student info session last wednesday, and we had a few students show interest in running in the upcoming election.
  2. Maher: Is the special election open to anyone?
  3. Stephen: New Transfer students cannot run for the special election, only transfer student who have been here for over a year can run in the special election.
  4. Maher: Do you think that since it’s so difficult for transfers to be involved in the UA, we could change the rules to include them in running for special elections as well?
  5. Stephen: Yeah. We are definitely open to this possibility. We were planning to speak to you all and also to TSO about this possibility.
  6. Michael: The problem is that we won't always have a special election. I think this is a discussion for a later date, but we could potentially set aside a seat for transfer students from the given nine freshman seats.
  1. Committee Meetings
  1. Brian: Everyone did a great job. The overall laptop policy is that you will be able to have a laptop while presenting your project, but it would be respectful to others if you put it away during others’ presentations. It is also rude to use phones during GBMs.
  1. Weekly Project Summary
  1. Brian: The back of the agenda now includes the summary report for each week’s ongoing projects. These projects were taken directly from Trello, and also keep in mind that quality is better that quantity.
  2. Max: I do think this is helpful. I would recommend reaching out to the committee directors to see which ones are relevant enough to be added to this list.
  3. Natasha: This is a great idea not only for collaboration, but it also keeps everyone aware of what others are working on.
  4. Michael: You get out of Trello what you put into it. We can use this to the best of our abilities, and learn new ways to be more efficient as we go. It would be cool to have an archive board for past projects, which is something we are trying to figure out.
  5. Daniel:  A useful feature I heard about is that Trello and Slack can be combined.
  6. Max: Yes, and AI has found so many useful features of Trello.
  7. Simon: For every other committee, it would be nice to have an archive of agendas for each meeting. It is very informative to see where everyone is at and how much they get done in each meeting.
  8. Michael: We are trying to figure out a trello/slack integration. If anyone figures it out, let us know.
  1. Fall Election Schedule
  1. Stephen: These are the dates for the election schedule:
  1. Sept. 20: Complete petitions due from 10am-5pm
  2. Sept. 20: Mandatory candidate meeting 8pm for New Students in  JMHH F55, and one at 6pm for the special election
  3. Sept. 21: Monetary campaigning begins at 7am
  4. Sept. 23: Midnight breakfast, voting opens at midnight
  5. Sept: 26: Spending forms due 5-7pm, then results are announced at 8pm.
  1. Stephen: Also, this year we are really emphasizing that you don't have to go to the election results meeting. We will be livestreaming it at 8pm for those who prefer to watch from the comfort of their own rooms.  
  2. Brian: Yes, and make sure to spread the word about the special election. It is nice to have these dates in case freshman ask you questions about it.
  3. Maher: After the survey the NEC sent out last year after the elections, did you get feedback about the results meeting?
  4. NEC: People’s feelings seemed to be pretty split which is why we are live streaming it now to avoid any confusion.
  5. Brian: Also, reminder that AM applications open at 9pm following the election results.

  1. Member of the Week is George! (:
  1. Secretary’s Report
  1. Upcoming Penn Labs Meetings
  1. Mercedes: After speaking with Katie, I have decided to have two meetings with Penn Labs this semester.
  2. Maher: Do they know any information regarding NGSS, or do they have any plans to collaborate with the university on this new program?
  3. Brian: They are getting information on this new project because two of the overseers for NGSS are on the Penn Labs board.
  1. Completion Report
  1. Academic Initiatives
  1. Starbucks Under Commons Back Room
  1. Elena: The backroom will now be able to stay in this room until 2am. You should not be kicked out of this room. If you are, please let me know.
  2. Simon: It should be possible for people who don’t show up for their reservations to be cancelled after a certain amount of time as well.
  1. Communications