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Poll shows opposition to bill of rights

Campus Conversations met last Tuesday to discuss the results of their second round of deliberative polling, which affirmed overwhelming opposition to the Student Bill of Rights at Carnegie Mellon.

Twenty-six participants in the poll were asked to share their opinions on certain issues. Their viewpoints were tallied on a scale of one to five. The average of the scores was recorded before and after the participants had a chance to learn more about the issue in question.

The focus of this poll was the proposed Student Bill of Rights, which would codify the prohibition of professors using their courses as a way of sharing personal political views with their students.

The participants were also asked how much they felt outside factors like politics, corporations, and faith affected their educational objectives and course content.

The results of the poll suggested that the participants had changed their minds after learning about the issues through Campus Communications.

Psychology professor Michael Bridges is responsible for collecting the data from the poll. “Relative to the previous poll, we have had more of an effect with this one,” he said at last Tuesday’s meeting.

Bridges also noted at the meeting that in some of the categories, significant differences were observed between the participants’ pre-discussion opinions and their post-discussion opinions, which was what Campus Conversations was hoping to find.

The program seeks to gather information through deliberative polling, in which members of the Carnegie Mellon community are asked to learn about current issues through discussion groups.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy created Campus Conversations in collaboration with the Coro Center for Civic Leadership and University Libraries.

“Campus Conversations can be an amazing tool to get information from the students,” said Student Senator and contributor to Campus Communications Michael Bueti. “Everyone on this campus has issues communicating, and using this could be used to aid in communication.”

The first deliberative poll at Carnegie Mellon, which focused on campus diversity and moral values associated with file sharing, was conducted last November. This first poll also included 90 participants more than those in the most recent poll.

“We’re dealing with small sample sizes,” Bridges said. “The fact that there’s anything significant is interesting.”

Biology professor William Brown, who is a member of Faculty Senate and attended the meeting, added, ”We need to do a better job educating people on the issues.”

One significant change in participant opinion was on the actual proposed bill. Opposition to the Student Bill of Rights went from just under 50 percent before the poll was conducted to above 75 percent after the poll.

“Maybe [the participants] were neutral before, but with the process of discussion they became interested,” said Liz Style at last Tuesday’s meeting. Style is from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy.

Yet Bridges expressed reluctance in concluding that the deliberative poll expressed the general view of everyone on campus because of the sample size.

“If we could get a response rate of 50 percent of a 200-person sample size, I’d be happy to talk about this generalizing the situation,” he said.

Brown also expressed the desire for a larger sample.

“We hope that with a larger sample response rate, this could lead to policy changes,” he said.

But some form of action is expected to arise from the poll’s results. Bueti gave his report of the results to Student Senate last week. He felt at the meeting that the results would allow Student Senate to forget about the Student Bill of Rights.

“There’s now an overwhelming opinion associated with the numbers that people don’t want this here,” Bueti said. “If people don’t want it, then we shouldn’t be working on it.”

For more information, contact Randall Weinsten at rweinste@andrew.cmu.edu.