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February 4, 2016

Senate committee focusing on graduate student issues

Reports on Pitt’s graduate population from the Office of the Provost, Student Affairs and the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) will inform discussion at the University Senate student admissions, aid and affairs committee’s Feb. 18 meeting.

The Senate committee is focusing on graduate student concerns in conjunction with GPSG’s efforts to boost support and help graduate students feel more connected to the University.

Committee chair Robin Kear said the committee plans to discuss the reports and decide whether to make formal recommendations to the Senate regarding graduate student services at Pitt.

At the committee’s January meeting, Kenyon Bonner, interim vice provost and dean of students, presented data on graduate students’ use of Student Affairs services; GPSG president Joe Kozak reported final results from its climate survey of graduate and professional students; and Stephanie Hoogendoorn, senior assistant to the provost for academic affairs, presented some preliminary information drawn from a school-by-school review of graduate student services with the promise of additional details in February.

Based on interviews with staff in the graduate schools, Hoogendoorn said initial considerations include expanding orientation for new students, improving the graduate studies website, looking into career services in some areas and addressing access to counseling services.
Data are still being compiled, she said, promising a more detailed report this month.

Kozak of GPSG reported that final results of his group’s climate survey fell in line with preliminary results he presented to the committee in November. (See Nov. 25 University Times.) Since that report, 35 additional responses have been received. A total of 665 graduate students, or nearly 7 percent of the Pitt grad student population, responded to the survey.

Kozak reiterated that communication is a key issue, with many students unaware of GPSG or of services available for graduate students.

He said he is researching student activity fees, services and the ways graduate education is structured at other Association of American Universities schools.

Bonner provided statistics on graduate students’ engagement with Student Affairs programming and services.

“We are here for all students, not just undergraduates,” Bonner said of Student Affairs. “Of course we have more undergraduate students on campus than graduate students, so statistically more undergraduates use our services and programs. But our mission is for all students.”

Of more than 28,000 students on the Pittsburgh campus, nearly 11,000 are graduate and professional students.

Bonner said that from August 2014 to August 2015, graduate students accounted for:

• 9.6 percent of the students who sought services at Pitt’s counseling center.
• 27.5 percent of counseling center appointments.
• 24.5 percent of Student Health Center appointments.
• 15 percent of students who identify as having some sort of disability.
• 20 percent of visits to the Baierl Recreation Center.
• 15 percent of Pitt’s intramural recreation participation.
• 3.8 percent of student conduct cases.

In addition, Bonner said, the University’s spring 2015 career fair served 430 graduate students and 1,500 undergraduates; the fall 2015 fair included 612 graduate participants and 2,200 undergraduates.

Graduate students accounted for 6,800 visits to local museums; 966 graduate students receive the PittArts newsletter.

Bonner said 107 graduate student organizations are registered with the Student Organization Resource Center, compared with 519 undergraduate student organizations. He noted that some undergraduate organizations include graduates.

“Graduate students engage in some programs more than others, but they are engaging now,” Bonner said. “I think, overwhelmingly, they do know about our services. The ones who need to utilize our services find us. And they are engaged with the programs and services that we have. That doesn’t mean that we can’t do more to encourage that use.”

Sexual harassment prevention training

In other business, at the request of Senate President Frank Wilson, the committee reviewed the provost’s ad hoc committee’s proposed guidelines for additional sexual harassment prevention and response training for faculty and staff.

Currently, new employees must complete an online course on prevention of sexual harassment, but no follow-up training is required. The provost’s committee is recommending additional training for employees at least once every four years. (See Jan. 21 University Times.)

After discussion, the Senate student admissions, aid and affairs committee endorsed the plan for additional training for Pitt employees, but suggested that annual training might be simpler to implement.

Committee members emphasized the importance of training for undergraduates, given that a 2015 campus climate survey identified fellow students as the perpetrators in more than 90 percent of student reports of sexual harassment.

The committee also recommended attention to differences in culture. Several members noted that international students who come from cultures where norms differ sometimes find it difficult to understand which behaviors are viewed as harassment here.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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