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USG Senate discusses academic advocacy, increasing transparency

<h6>Caitlin Limestahl / The Daily Princetonian&nbsp;</h6>
Caitlin Limestahl / The Daily Princetonian 

In their April 11 meeting, members of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) discussed efforts to increase transparency, as well as their ongoing student advocacy, especially with regards to how graduate schools, fellowship institutions, and internships will view grades and transcripts.

Academics Chair Christian Potter ’22 introduced a letter that has been drafted by student body presidents from schools across the country. According to Potter, the letter is a “broad call upon these graduate and fellowship institutions to take grades from this semester with a grain of salt and with an understanding of the circumstances and not to penalize students either for taking classes P/D/F mandatory or opting to do it.”

According to USG president Chitra Parikh ’21, the three-page letter asks recipient institutions to keep the challenges resulting from the pandemic in mind when evaluating the academic performance of spring 2020 applicants. The letter also encourages those institutions not to rescind pre-existing job or internship offers solely based on this term’s grades.

Parikh said many schools’ student body presidents have already signed the letter, including those of Brown University, New York University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Rice University. After no objections from the Senate, Parikh said she and Potter would sign on to the letter on behalf of Princeton.

The letter will be sent to the Association of American Medical Colleges, Association of American Law Schools, many fellowships — including the Fulbright Scholarship Commission and the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission — and the National Institutes of Health, among other institutions. 

Parikh noted that the letter is primarily focused on graduate schools, and there has been no discussion of extending the letter’s contents to undergraduate schools. 

Potter noted that the Academics Committee is pursuing a second avenue of advocacy, which involves talking with the Graduate College, Woodrow Wilson School, School of Architecture, and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. 

“We want to make sure that Princeton’s [graduate] school is going to be looking at this very seriously, but more broadly, we want Princeton to be a leader in this field,” Potter said. “If Princeton [makes] a public statement that is very favorable, compassionate, and understanding about this semester, perhaps other institutions in the educational space will follow.”

Potter added that this initiative is not the only one being pursued by his committee at the moment. “Again, we are really doing our best to find creative ideas to channel our advocacy,” he said.

The conversation then moved to ways USG can encourage students to communicate with the Senate in ways other than through email and social media. Through either a reoccurring Zoom call or webinar, the Senate is looking to continue the office hours previously offered on campus. 

“This is separate from normal office hours, but this is also a continuation of our role as junior representatives and transparency,” Potter said. “Another thing we’re hoping [to] get out of this is more ideas for advocacy. We’re nowhere near the end of this, and we think this is a really good opportunity to get face-to-face [time] with students.”

The meeting was held via Zoom at 9:30 p.m. EDT. 

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