IUP SGA: Administration stifles constituent communication

IUP Student Government Association President Alyssa M. Stiles addresses Freshman Convocation in Fisher Auditorium, Aug. 30, 2009. Photo by Brandon Oakes

IUP Student Government Association President Alyssa M. Stiles addresses Freshman Convocation in Fisher Auditorium, Aug. 30, 2009. Photo by Brandon Oakes

By Emily Mross

INDIANA – The Indiana University of Pennsylvania Student Government Association is one of a handful of SGAs in the 14-campus Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education that has no access to a list-serv — an e-mail listing — of its student constituents.

SGA President Alyssa Stiles, 20, a pre-dentistry major, learned in a conference call on Feb. 11 that of the PASSHE SGAs participating in the call, the IUP SGA was the only one that had no list-serv of its own. Neither was IUP’s SGA able to enlist an administrator send out an e-mail to the student body on behalf of the student government.

At IUP, all information sent to students by their elected campus representatives is limited to the Campus Events Digest, a daily list-format e-mail all students receive. But students can opt out of receiving the digest without opening it. If so, they may not receive the SGA information.

“We need to contact the student body about what’s going on, and let them know what SGA is doing,” Stiles said during a Feb. 11 phone interview.

An IUP journalism professor agreed.

“The SGA needs a way to communicate with all students,” said journalism professor Michele Papakie during a Feb. 11 phone interview.

Papakie has 20 years of public relations experience and two months of legislative experience as a supervisor of Brush Valley Township.

“SGA should not be making decisions for the students if they can’t communicate with them about what they do, from both a public relations and a legislative standpoint,” Papakie said. “Students don’t even know that SGA exists.”

That communication problem is an issue that Stiles said she hoped to tackle. During the fall semester, Stiles thought that a listserv – an electronic method of managing email to and from a list of subscribers — would be a better method of communicating with student constituents. SGA could have direct access to all students and could e-mail them about news and events without diversion to the daily-events digest.

Her idea, however, was rejected by university administrators.

“Health and safety issues are the only content for the university listserv,” said Rhonda Luckey, IUP vice president for student affairs, during a Feb. 22 interview in her Sutton Hall office. “When we send out an e-mail to the entire student body, we have to be sure that the message is always taken seriously. We cannot create an environment where those messages take on a casual demeanor.”

But Stiles countered that IUP President Tony Atwater uses his listserv for issues she thinks are not safety-related, such as updates about his recent prostate operation.

Atwater was diagnosed with prostate cancer last fall and underwent treatment. He has occasionally e-mailed the IUP community with personal health updates.

Stiles said she was told that his listserv was created specially for the president.

“I think the university administration might be afraid of giving the SGA too much power,” Stiles said.

One upperclass student expressed unfamiliarity with SGA.

“I only know what SGA is because I knew someone in it,” said Emily A. Franey, 21, a journalism and Spanish major. “I went to one meeting, but I didn’t know what they were talking about. I don’t know what they do, or if they do anything.”

Franey said she skims the daily Campus Events email occasionally. But its list format is frustrating to read. She said she does not recall seeing any news in the digest about SGA.

Such student dissatisfaction with the Campus Events email is a growing problem, Stiles said.

“I don’t always open Campus Events anymore,” she said.

Frustration with the format of Campus Events may lead students to delete the digest before they open it, making it an ineffective way of reaching the student body, said Stiles.

Luckey said she is aware of Campus Event’s failings.

“It’s just not user-friendly,” said Luckey.

A communications study conducted by the university in fall 2009 allowed the university to see who was using the Campus Events email by day and by topic, as well as how many students read the digest. The data made it clear that a new method of contacting students is necessary, said Luckey.

According to Luckey, work is underway to create a daily digest for students that is more user-friendly than Campus Events.

Stiles said it could be similar to IUP Daily, a digest received by faculty and staff.

IUP Daily provides events and information in a linked format, allowing recipients to read more about an event on a separate Web page.

“Ideally we’d like to have this ready for fall,” said Luckey. “But that probably won’t happen.”

Creating a pilot version of the so-called IUP Student Daily will take time, and the developers want student feedback as the process continues, said Regan Houser, IUP director of communications and Web communications, in a Feb. 22 Sutton Hall interview.

Houser and Luckey said they would like to have a test version of IUP Student Daily ready for test use by the end of the spring 2010 semester.

“We would want to have a dedicated corner in the IUP Student Daily for SGA,” said Luckey.

Luckey said that if students know where to look for specific information, they will be more likely to read it.

“An element of predictability is important,” said Houser. “Like the comics section of the newspaper, you know where to go to find something.”

Houser said that the IUP Daily is generated by an RSS feed. The acronym stands for real simple syndication. The message is built by syndicating information from the Web sites of IUP departments.

“We want to look at this from a student frame of reference, not our frame of reference,” said Houser. “But we need vibrant SGA updates to keep this useful.”

Until the new system is functional, SGA still must rely on the Campus Events Digest. And even with the new IUP Student Daily, SGA would not be able to email students directly.

“If we get a listserv, it will still probably be hit or miss to get most students to read it,” said Stiles. “I would still like the chance to be able to e-mail them directly.”

Emily Mross, a junior majoring in journalism and English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Bartonsville.


Fast Facts: For more info

For more information about this story, contact the following sources:

Alyssa Stiles
2009-2010 Student Government Association
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
E-mail: A.M.Stiles@iup.edu

Rhonda Luckey
Vice president for student affairs
213 Sutton Hall
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Phone: 724-357-4040
E-mail: Rhonda.Luckey@iup.edu

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