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UPUA Approves Princeton Review Subsidy at Noisy Town Hall Meeting

The University Park Undergraduate Association’s first town hall meeting of the year was a lot like a Passover Seder–in that listing all the reasons why Wednesday night’s meeting was different from all other meetings would take quite a while.

For one, there were dozens of students in attendance, rather than the scant two or three who typically show up. Open Student Forum wasn’t just a formality, but an avenue for constituents to voice their opinions. And the location–in the HUB already occupied by a tent village not twenty feet away–made for an interesting situation, where anyone without a microphone could hardly be heard over the din.

But perhaps the biggest change from business as usual for UPUA was that rather than quibble over minute details, Penn State’s student government passed a major piece of legislation with no opposition to speak of.

It was nine weeks ago, at the first UPUA meeting of the fall, when the Princeton Review test prep subsidy was first introduced to the Assembly, but amid concerns over the necessary time commitment, that issue was tabled for almost two months. Worried that the University mandate that a UPUA member would have to be present at each prep course session was a nonstarter, the Assembly referred the subsidy back to committee.

During that General Assembly meeting on August 25, Academic Affairs John Zang argued that UPUA didn’t “ha[ve] the kind of manpower to attend every meeting.” But that was then, and this was now–when Zang was proudly touting the piece of legislation which made it through his committee and carried his recommendation, once he “made sure we had the manpower” and after meeting with the Office of Risk Management to work through the kinks.

But although the particulars didn’t change much, from UPUA’s perspective, the tone of the discussion was markedly different. Even from the opening comments, it was clear that the test prep subsidy would become a reality. Perhaps influenced by negative publicity, or by students who stressed the importance of their student government actually accomplishing something on their behalf, the entire Assembly found themselves on the same page.

Governmental Affairs chair Adam Boyer was perhaps the most ebullient. “I’m so happy we can finally pass this, it’s about a month and a half overdue,” Boyer said.”Subsidizing test prep is something we’ve been working on for years,” and he was glad to see it become reality.

Over the past few weeks, members of the Assembly had been filling in time slots for which classes they’d be able to attend, and with all of those secured in advance of tonight’s meeting, passage was indeed a formality. According to Vice President Courtney Lennartz, courses were first offered to representatives who were interested in taking them, and indeed, one side benefit is free test prep, not just subsidized, for a handful of lucky UPUA members. But the time commitment was indeed significant, with up to four, three-hour, classes each night of the week.

To mitigate that factor, representatives time spent at the meetings would count as their required weekly office hour–and to minimize the number of voting members who’d have to miss UPUA’s Wednesday night Assembly, Lennartz said that executive directors and Academic Affairs delegates could fill the spot.

The program will begin in the spring, and will not continue past that semester, because, Chairwoman of the Assembly Kelly Terefenko said, the Sixth Assembly could not commit future Assemblies to it. However, if this pilot program is a success, it may well become a UPUA hallmark.

Although the organization’s unanimous approval of the Princeton Review subsidy was undoubtedly the biggest piece of news to come out of Wednesday’s meeting, it was by no means the sole newsworthy item. The open student forum created an excellent referendum on UPUA, with some students–like Penn State ACLU President Brian Flowers decrying UPUA’s spending on promotional items, and demanding an explanation for the closing of Steering Committee’s meeting Sunday evening.

Others questioned the direction of the organization on issues like lobbying for lower tuition and increased appropriations and beseeched it to “think outside the box.” Some claimed that UPUA was “undemocratic,” and others, like IFC President Dan Florencio, argued that while it was easy to rant about UPUA, it’s much harder to get elected to office and induce change. Those are just a snapshot of the dozen-plus students who made their often extremely disparate opinions known to UPUA–and many representatives, like Elias Warren, expressed their gratitude to them for coming out.

And those who stuck around got to hear a presentation from Housing Director Tyler Wentz, who has been working with Housing and Food Services on potentially expanding the Off-Campus meal plan. Unfortunately, he found that “the best compromise they’re going to be able to give us” wasn’t much of an improvement on the current situation. Students paying with LionCash, as off-campus students are wont to do, nets a 10% discount in dining commons and other areas. The proposed substitute would also grant a 10% discount, but it would be paid through the bursar account, so scholarships and financial aid could go to paying for food.

Programming Chair Kyle Lorenz, who said he has worked with Wentz in many of these meetings, said that he went in “100% behind trying to get the same 65% discount” that on-campus students get. But in meetings with HFS, he heard that it “wouldn’t be advantageous to do anything more than this.”

But that disappointment was somewhat mitigated by a report from Dave Harrington, who announced that while LionCash swipes wouldn’t work on CATA buses, he found a nice compromise.

“We’re going to order tokens from CATA, and they’re going to be at every Residence Hall desk and at other places, and you can purchase them with LionCash,” he said. That wasn’t the end of the good news: “If we get enough, maybe we can get a discount.”

It’s a little difficult to editorialize when UPUA has meetings like this–and if more were run in this fashion, it’d be hard to find a reason to gripe. It was fully transparent and accountable, and showed an undeniable commitment to improving student life at Penn State.

Now if only they could find a quieter spot.

About the Author

Devon Edwards

Devon is a 2012 Penn State graduate and current law student at NYU. Devon joined Onward State in January of 2011, after a lengthy stay in the comment section. His likes include sabermetrics, squirrels, and longs walks on the beach, and his dislikes include spelunking, when you put your clothes in the dryer and they come out still kinda damp but also warm, and the religious right.

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