Student input, a work in progress

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Student input, a work in progress

Students hand a letter to Chancellor Gallagher's assistant Sept. 25. Photo courtesy of AID.

Students hand a letter to Chancellor Gallagher's assistant Sept. 25. Photo courtesy of AID.

Students hand a letter to Chancellor Gallagher's assistant Sept. 25. Photo courtesy of AID.

Students hand a letter to Chancellor Gallagher's assistant Sept. 25. Photo courtesy of AID.

By Elizabeth Lepro / Assistant News Editor

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Students asked the Pitt administration to hear them out last week, and Kenyon Bonner said he’s listening.

On Sept. 25, students from Free the Planet and Americans for Informed Democracy dropped off a letter for Chancellor Patrick Gallagher describing their disappointment with the lack of student engagement in Pitt’s Strategic Planning initiative, called the Plan for Pitt.

Last Wednesday Bonner, the interim dean of students, met with nine students from Free the Planet, Students for Justice in Palestine and AID in a conference room near his office to discuss their concerns.

“I felt like we could have done a better job [in the past] of communicating all the ways we did engage students,” Bonner said after the meeting.

In order to gather student input about strategic planning last year, Pitt circulated its annual satisfaction survey and held town hall meetings for student engagement, according to Bonner.

Students will have another opportunity to give input at an open forum that will take place tonight from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the William Pitt Union ballroom. Bonner said the forum was already in the works before he met with the students, but he hadn’t determined the date until last week.

Bonner said he and Vice Provost David DeJong reached out to student leaders for input in the four-year strategic plan. Nick Goodfellow, a member of AID, said  student leaders shouldn’t make up the extent of student engagement.

“We questioned the methodology and made the point again that student leaders are not exactly representative of the student population,” Goodfellow, who dropped off the initial letter, said.

Bonner said he understood this concern. In response, the University is reaching out to the entire student body by advertising today’s forum on the Pitt home page, through a Campus Connect message and on social media.

Goodfellow is pleased about the open forum, but added that he would like to see students become members of the strategic planning committees.

The committees, which the plan refers to as “working groups,” are teams made up of departmental deans, vice deans and professors, who can facilitate assigned sections of the plan’s goals. These goals include advancing the curriculae of Pitt’s classes and strengthening the community by focusing on diversity and expanded global opportunities for students.

Sage Lincoln, a member of Free the Planet who helped write the letter, said she also talked with Bonner about sending out an e-mail survey to students who can’t make it tonight.

Bonner said he plans to set up another forum this semester that would take place after 5:30 in the evening on a Monday or Wednesday, based on when the group told him would be most accessible to students. Bonner has not yet set a date for this forum.

Lincoln said Bonner was receptive and open to the students’ comments, but she’s waiting to see the results before she considers the problem solved.

“You can’t just have one forum meeting and expect that to be effective,” Lincoln, a senior geology, ecology and urban studies major said.

Bonner submitted the students’ ideas to the planning committee, and said he was interested in Lincoln’s proposal that the working groups hold their own input sessions.

This way, Licoln said students who have something to say about community relations, for example, can address the people working on that topic.

Bonner said the working groups will ensure that each specific initiative aligns with the plan’s bigger picture.

“The strategic plan can be overbearing,” Bonner said.

Bonner said he will use tomorrow night’s forum as a springboard for the rest of the planning process.

“Anytime you hear feedback and students say, ‘We didn’t get it,’” Bonner said, “You have to listen to that.” 

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