Students’ concerns voiced in “A Night with the Presidents”

Nick DeMarchis, Print Managing Co-Editor

Last Tuesday, members of the University community voiced their concerns on Pass-Withdrawal standards, financial aid, mental health, and more in the University’s annual “Night with the Presidents.” This year’s event was held at Trout Auditorium and attended by – among others – President John Bravman, Provost Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak, and Bucknell Student Government (BSG) President Madison Scopano ’22.

Populated by BSG representatives and other campus community members, the evening began with Scopano relaying questions from the University community. Three live questions were asked by students after Bravman, Mermann-Jozwiak and Scopano delivered their remarks.

The discussion initially focused on a potential Pass-Withdrawal option for the Fall 2021 semester. During the 2020–2021 academic year, Mermann-Jozwiak announced Pass-Withdrawal grading to accommodate students adversely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Following the release of grades, students were able to choose whether to accept the letter grade they received for the class, or convert to a pass (“P”) – which obscures the given letter grade – or withdrawal (“W”) option. Bravman and Mermann-Jozwiak both addressed the issue after a poll placed on the BSG Instagram suggested nearly 95 percent of student-followers supported the policy.

“We kept that policy intact longer than many of our peer institutions,” Mermann-Jozwiak said, and stated the University would be “outliers” should they have retained it for the fall 2021 semester. While the decision was made independently by members of the Faculty Council, she added that the Provost’s office provided a memo and other guidance emphasizing flexibility and understanding with the student body.

Further arguing that retaining the pass-withdrawal option could “detrimentally affect” students’ graduate, medical and law school applications, Mermann-Jozwiak’s posture appears to depart from previous University advisory messaging about use of the policy. Previous dispatches placed use or nonuse of the P/W option in the hands of students and their individual advisors. Per a Nov. 2020 email by from the Registrar’s Office, these parties would together determine the “longer-term implications that Pass grades or course withdrawals may have for financial aid and scholarships, graduate school admissions or GPA issues.”

On financial aid, Bravman spoke of upcoming plans to raise funds to increase the endowment by half a billion dollars, of which “financial aid will be at the heart.” He said that while such an amount “will not meet all our needs,” it will substantially improve student life on campus.

An increasing topic of concern for much of the University community, President Bravman also addressed the status and future of mental health resources on campus. Specifically, the President announced job postings for two new full-time psychologists – bringing the University’s total from eight to 10.

“Every part of the community is under stress,” Bravman noted.

The President also spoke of mold concerns in older campus residence halls, like the Bucknell West Apartments (the “Mods”) as well as Vedder Hall. While the University has offered off-campus housing options for those affected by mold exposure, Bravman noted that “it appears we’ve turned a corner.” He explained further that, as of the most recent trustee meeting, University administrative leadership is “considering replacement” for the “Mods” on a longer timeframe.

Bravman also briefly addressed the findings and recommendations of the Food Security and Nutrition Task Force, which released a report on University dining policy late last semester. Noting that improving dining programs is a moral obligation, Bravman explained that scalable programs are difficult because both student choice and “one-size-fits-all” solutions are neither staunchly opposed nor perfectly complementary. He added that changing meal plan systems mid-stream would be “changing the terms of the bargain” for enrolled students, so any system-wide changes would take four years to be fully implemented.

Owing to the “fairly complicated” situation surrounding dining, Bravman said that he doesn’t think changes to dining will be “as high as the task force recommended,” and further indicated that he doesn’t “see moving tuition dollars” to support dining.

Scopano spoke in closing of efforts to create a more inclusive community, including a new committee with student Greek life leaders to address concerns voiced by BSG members while enhancing training for the organization’s members.

Bravman concluded that students’ time at the University might be their only opportunity to explore and devote themselves to unique academic and extracurricular endeavors. Reflecting on his decade-plus of tenure as University president, Bravman proclaimed that he works to build “the University for the grandchildren of those not yet born.”

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