In the press conference for the release of the 2012 Student Life Report, the GUSA President Mike Meaney (SFS ’12) and Vice President Greg Laverriere (COL ’12) were asked when they thought another large-scale, student-driven self-study should be executed. They responded that the interval between the 1999 and 2012 reports was too long, and that they would like to see another study in the next few years. Although I agree that three full turnovers of the undergraduate population is too long to go without assessing student life, a shorter interval is not the solution. Rigorous self-study, similar to the assessment taking place in these reports, must be a constant and evolving activity.
The model of regularly-timed, large-scale studies works well for large institutions with longevity. For instance, the University’s decennial self-studies for reaccreditation are appropriate. This model, however, isn’t the best fit for a population with a four-year turnover rate. Furthermore, large-scale studies are effective in two ways: by articulating the current state of affairs, and by offering well researched recommended courses of action. In essence, these large-scale studies are excellent for setting mid-to-long-term goals.
But there is one function that large-scale studies cannot serve in a meaningful way: providing feedback. Currently, there is no mechanism for the short-to-mid-term feedback and goal-setting in student life. Assuming that the study is accurate, and that their recommendations were thoroughly considered, how will we know if and to what extent the recommendations were effective after they were carried out? We could wait until the next self-study to be commissioned by another GUSA executive of a completely different student body (and then risk GUSA forgetting about it), or we could create a new, standing commission with the responsibility of assessment. Obviously, I think the latter solution is more effective.
“Continuous self-assessment” might seem ambiguous, so allow me to provide some specifics. The report recommends that in order to improve student groups’ access to space, all space reservations be compiled through one office with one online portal. If this is implemented, and student groups can book any space on campus through OCAF’s website, it is unclear whether student groups will have a better experience with space, or if it will just increase the number of OCAF-related headaches. The best way to tell is to establish criteria that measure student organizations’ satisfaction with space reservations, and then, after the change has been implemented, assess the criteria again to see if there was any improvement. Having short-term feedback like this is imperative, especially if student organization bureaucracy (GUSA, the funding boards, and student organizations) wants more autonomy.
I’m imagining this commission on assessment as a semi-autonomous commission, like the election commission, with the responsibility to quantitatively review and make recommendations for improving various non-academic aspects of the Georgetown experience, including student life, space, and student bureaucracies. The senate would be able to direct the commission to look into given programs, and the main emphasis would be the collection of data to assist short to mid-term decision making.
There are a couple of key points necessary for this to work out: first, it has to be semi-independent from the senate and the executive, so as to not be involved in any GUSA power-mongering. Second, the reviews and recommendations need to be analytical, rigorous, and quantitative, so they can be taken seriously. Third, all data should be made public (unless it is sensitive, i.e. health practices). And fourth, the commission should have no power to enforce anything—only the power to review and recommend. The last point is to keep the commission from becoming another hurdle to student life. On the other hand, if the senate or SAC wants to use the data to improve itself, that would be fantastic. In fact, it would be more than fantastic—it would be effective.
Now, whether or not people on campus will do the right thing with accurate information is another discussion.
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