CMU Student Senate General Body Meeting recap 10/6

On Oct. 6, the Undergraduate Student Senate held their weekly general body meeting. The two major items on the agenda were an academic calendar assessment presentation and a student and faculty ombuds presentation.

The academic calendar assessment presentation was given by computer science teaching professor Mark Stehlik, who serves on the Calendar Innovation Committee (CIC). The CIC was created to analyze the Academic Year (AY) 21-22 calendar and assess what should be done for AY 22-23. The result was the current “7-1-7 alignment” that features seven weeks of classes, one week of break, and seven weeks of classes. The main purpose of the AY 22-23 Calendar Assessment Committee (CAC), a part of the CIC, is to “develop and deliver a set of recommendations to the Provost for evaluating the impact of the approved changes to the academic calendar that can inform decision-making about the future of the academic calendar.”

The CAC has approached their work through five meetings: the first for developing research questions, the second through fourth to research question themes, and the fifth to prioritize metrics. Currently, 37 metrics within four domains have been considered to assess the new 7-1-7 calendar: 12 for student learning and curriculum, 15 for student wellbeing, five for faculty and staff experience, and five for faculty and staff wellbeing.

Three criteria were used to evaluate each metric: communication power, which considers how well a question communicates to a broad and diverse audience; proxy power, which asks how well the question says something of critical importance about the 7-1-7 calendar change; and data power, which asks if the CAC could obtain appropriate data/information in a timely manner. For instance, a metric evaluating change in the number of students using UHS and CaPS due to the calendar chance was considered to have “medium” communication, “low” proxy, and “low” data power since Community Health & Wellbeing experts indicated that changes in UHS and CaPS service utilization is not solely related to the calendar change.

Data will be collected in a variety of ways, including student surveys, faculty surveys, analysis of existing data, engagement analysis, and faculty focus groups. The next steps for the CAC is to share their plan with relevant groups and then charge the Institutional Research and the Eberly Center with conducting research.

Currently, the proposed AY 23-24 calendar does also feature the 7-1-7 alignment, and classes are planned for election day.

The next presentation was regarding the creation of a Student & Faculty Ombuds Office. An ombuds is “a designated neutral person who informally and confidentially helps to manage and resolve issues.” Their purpose is to direct individuals to the appropriate formal and/or informal process to resolve concerns. Examples given for why one may visit the Ombuds Office include navigating accusations of plagiarism, concerns about academic integrity violations and investigations, concerns about how instructors or professors are acting, or concerns about going on leave.

The Ombuds is meant to be an informal option that listens to concerns, provides assistance with evaluating options, and explains university policy and procedures, among other things. They are not meant to provide mental health counseling, offer legal advice, duplicate grievance procedures, conduct formal investigations, or overturn binding decisions. The main words that are used to describe the Student & Faculty Ombuds Office are informal, independent, impartial, and confidential; the identity of visitors to the office will not be disclosed unless permission is given, unless there is an imminent risk of serious harm, or for legal reasons.

There is currently an ongoing search for someone to fill the position of the ombuds. The goal is to hire a senior teaching track, tenured, or emeritus faculty member at Carnegie Mellon. The committee to hire an ombuds will include a number of students, staff, and administrators. The search is currently planned to begin in November.