The Challenges of Fulfilling Student Requests
by Leland Goodrich | published Feb. 19th, 2020
There is nothing like the freezing cold Rochester winter to get RIT students wondering why the university can’t provide more parking spaces around campus. There is seemingly nothing worse than having to park in B Lot because your first class is not until 11 a.m. The chore of having to trudge through snow, ice and howling winds is only soothed by the thoughts of warm summer weather ahead.
However, the blistering heat of the summer months can bring problems of their own. Once the snow has melted and the calming rains of spring have passed, students soon begin to wonder why RIT cannot provide dormitories with the modern amenity of air conditioning. When temperatures start to rise, students begin to think that the icy winds of winter are not that bad after all.
Before long, one of these inconveniences will push a student to act, voicing their disappointment in the university. This is typically done on PawPrints, an open petition forum where the student body can bring their concerns and wants about RIT to the attention of Student Government (SG). Students posting on PawPrints call SG to action to find the best solution.
Yet, even as petitions gain momentum and SG drafts charges to investigate, students find themselves unable to convince the administration to swiftly fulfill popular requests such as paving new parking lots or adding central air conditioning to dormitories.
Is this because RIT is not paying enough attention to the gripes of the Tiger community and brushing off concerns? Or is it because fulfilling the requests of students, even simple ones, requires a vast amount of resources and planning?
Student Requests: Petitions and PawPrints
Firstly, it is important to look at where all student requests begin: PawPrints.
To get the guaranteed attention of SG, a petition requires 200 signatures from other members of the student body who support the petition’s cause.
However, if a petition falls short of the 200-signature requirement, it does not necessarily mean that the petition is destined to fail. If a student is committed to fulfilling the petition’s mission, by actively and directly advocating the petition to an SG member, it will typically find its way on the SG agenda.
Likewise, SG can opt to investigate concerns they deem important to the overall student body, even if they fall below the requisite 200 signatures or do not appear on PawPrints at all.
Once an issue gets the attention of SG, it is briefed and assigned to an SG committee for further investigation.
Liam Megraw, a fourth year Environmental Science major and the vice president of SG, said that “we [SG] want to take on a lot of projects because we want to make life better for students, but we also try to make sure we are realistic. That is why we have that 200-student signing threshold.”
Not all petitions are equally realistic. Some petitions can be as simple as requesting light bulbs be replaced when they burn out, and others can be as complex as wanting to change the infrastructure of the RIT campus.
SG does their best to deliver productive and useful solutions that satisfy the requests of the students they serve. Yet, fielding all the petitions that come through PawPrints is no easy task, and even fulfilling requests that reach the 200-signature threshold is not always possible.
The Rigors of Student Government
Once petitions have been vetted and presented to Senate, they become charges, which become the responsibility of an assigned SG committee. The committee is then tasked with figuring out how to best tackle the charge’s request. Simple, right? Not quite.
SG faces many challenges when trying to fulfill the charges once they make their way through the PawPrints forum.
“If you think of any regular system, there is always a lot of moving pieces and there’s always a lot of things happening,” SG President Anika Aftab said.
SG is a great tool that allows the RIT student voice to be heard through the complex university system. However, charges only begin at the SG level. Depending on the complexity of a specific charge, these student requests can travel through multiple administration committees, sit on the desks of RIT officials and can even face legal barriers before ultimately being approved, if ever at all.
“Some of these charges have been open for two or three years, but only because it requires the right people at the right places, the right amount of money — you name it," Aftab, a fifth year School of Individualized Study student with concentrations in Healthcare Policy and Project Management, added.
Charges can quickly turn into difficult projects that require lots of coordination and time to accomplish. For example, the renovations that are currently occurring at Gracie’s largely stemmed from student requests to improve the on-campus dining facility, but that only happened after extensive planning and funding was made available.
Liam Megraw also contributed an understated factor about SG members and their involvement in fulfilling charges: “We are students too.”
SG wants to fulfill every student request they receive through creating charges because they know the positive effects that changes can have on the student body.
“We try to advocate for all of the benefits that something would bring, we do our research and we take proposals on to administration, but ultimately they will make the decision,” he said.
Argument for the Administration
The cold hard truth about student requests is that no matter how effectively and swiftly SG can produce charges, the decision to act is ultimately up to RIT administration officials. Due to this, it can be very easy to become critical of the administration, especially when some requests seem to be rolled over from year to year.
Parking in distant lots in the dead of winter and not having the luxury of air conditioning in dorm rooms can make some students think that the administration simply just does not care. Despite this notion among some students, RIT does not just brush off student requests.
The entire PawPrints system is a testament to how seriously the RIT administration takes student concerns and requests. Furthermore, allowing the students of SG the discretion of deciding how to advance student requests, rather than an RIT official, is more evidence of the seriousness RIT has concerning its students.
“There are so many different faculty members and staff members at RIT ... they are there because they care about the students and they want to help the students," Aftab said.
SG Senate meetings are additional proof that the administration hears its students. It only took a few meetings to show that airflow studies on the dorms were conducted to ensure the temperature in dorms were not excessively brutal and plans to improve parking around campus are already being enacted.
In most cases, fulfilling student requests is a delicate combination of funding, cooperation, timing and most important of all, patience.
In the words of Aftab, “looking at it from the administration perspective, you don’t join higher education if you don’t care about students.”