Poll to deliberate student bill of rights

Is a student’s right to be graded fairly important enough to warrant an amendment to Carnegie Mellon’s Student Bill of Rights? It’s important enough, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy thinks, to hold a deliberative poll on the subject next Tuesday.

Randy Weinsten, a Coro Fellow in Local Democracy and 2005 Carnegie Mellon graduate, has organized the event along with junior Michael R. Bueti, chair of the Academic Affairs committee of Student Senate, and numerous Carnegie Mellon faculty members.

“We hope the poll will help stimulate discussion of students’ rights issues within the Carnegie Mellon community,” Weinsten said, “and the data will help us gain insight into the views of the community on this issue.”

According to the committee’s “Campus Conversations: The Carnegie Mellon Students’ Rights Policy” information packet, there are many possible courses of action within three general directions. Carnegie Mellon could adopt the Student Bill of Rights, retain its current policy, or modify current policy with the addition of the proposed amendment.

As Weinsten explained, the deliberative poll participants will first be briefed on background information and perspectives surrounding the issue prior to the event.

On the day of the event, they will discuss their reactions to the material in small groups of randomly-selected participants.

Their conclusions will then be turned into data, which will become a factor in the decision-making process of campus policy-makers.

The process of changing University policy is neither easy nor expedient. In the weeks following the original drafting of the proposed amendment last November, the Academic Affairs Committee held a forum open to all members of the Carnegie Mellon community to discuss and raise awareness of the proposal.

In February, Student Senate approved the resolution supporting the amendment, only to be vetoed a week later by Student Body President Tom Sabram. At the same time, the Academic Affairs Committee stated that they would no longer support the resolution.

Most recently, in March the Carnegie Mellon Faculty Senate passed a resolution condemning a bill containing a version of the Academic Bill of Rights for the state of Pennsylvania.

Sabram vetoed the February resolution not solely because of its content or a weak majority of Senators in its support, but also because of lack of input from the student body, according to Sabram’s “Presidential Perspectives” column printed in The Tartan on February 13.

“I felt Senate had not talked to its constituents because every time I asked about how many people talked to their friends/constituents only two or so had said yes,” Sabram stated in an e-mail message regarding his original decision to veto the resolution.

Sabram also pointed out the benefits for individuals who choose to participate in the poll.

“[Participating in the poll] will provide community members the opportunity to learn background knowledge on the issue nationally and how it will affect our campus so they can make more educated decisions,” Sabram said. “Learning about the issue gives them the opportunity to converse with other students on this campus and challenge the way they think.”

Sabram and Weinsten agreed that the deliberative poll provides an effective way to get an engaged audience and educate others en masse.

In order to get as random a sample as possible, Sabram added, poll organizers will gather two students from each of Carnegie Mellon’s student organizations and poll them if the sample obtained through the self-selection process isn’t diversified enough.

“We want to give as educated an estimate as possible on how students feel on an issue,” Sabram said.
He noted the only disadvantage of the poll is that the leader of the discussion could cause participants’ views to be unfairly challenged — ironically, one of the problems that the Student Bill of Rights is designed to eradicate.

The poll, titled “Campus Conversations: The Carnegie Mellon Students’ Rights Policy,” will take place in Baker and Porter halls on Tuesday, April 11, from 5:30 to 8:30 pm. Registration begins at 5 pm outside
Porter Hall 100.