At the final formal meeting of the semester for the Slippery Rock Student Government Association (SGA), SRU President William Behre took time to address the body’s concerns regarding COVID-19 and mental health.
During the open forum portion of the meeting, Behre stressed the importance of acting in safe manner to help slow the spread of the coronavirus so the university could stay open for students looking for some form of normalacy.
With the administrations determination that currently SRU’s spring semester will look very much like the fall and the cancellation of fall sports, Behre said he was looking to set The Rock up for success to that can lead to an increase of face-to-face courses next fall.
“We are working as hard as I’ve ever seen a group of people work, to bring us back much more face-to-face next fall,” Behre said.
Increasing testing on campus is important to the plan.
In the upcoming weeks, Behre said the university should have a contract with a supplier to provide rapid testing of asymptomatic students regularly. He said he expects providing this sort of testing regiment will cost more than $1 million.
Even if there are not more classes held on campus in the spring, the increased testing will allow for more events to be held and help spring sports to move forward.
Yet, Behre does not believe testing alone will be enough. He said what is important, and where other universities have had success with increased face-to-face learning, is community buy-in.
“In truth, a substantial subset of our students have not taken this pandemic as seriously as I would have liked them to see off-campus,” Behre said. “And if we’re going to come back more fully, people are going to have to take it more seriously.”
Part of the university’s plan has been to cancel fall and spring breaks in an attempt to keep students from travelling around and not abiding by recommended guidelines. Some senators, like Sen. Gabriel Stiles, wanted to know if the university has thought about how this is affecting students’ mental health.
“I kind of want to know what your thoughts are on implementing maybe just a few day breaks … because, overall students are just really burned out,” Stiles asked.
Behre responded by saying his issue with announced mini breaks is that it provides an opportunity for large numbers of students to travel and spread infection. He said the idea of pop-up breaks is “attractive” because students are not given advanced notice and they cannot do something he sees as “a knucklehead move.”
He added that it was just an idea he heard about and was not a formal plan or something he has discussed with his cabinet.
Still, Behre said he is tired like everyone else, but he hopes the extended break between semesters is something everyone will find welcoming despite the lack of break during the semester.
Discussing the financial state of the university, Behre welcomed SGA in using their position to talk with legislatures about increased funding for higher education.
Pennsylvania has consistently ranked toward the bottom of the list in funding of higher education. In 2014, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center found the commonwealth 46th in the U.S. in per capita spending on higher education.
Behre added the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) has been frozen over the years and has not changed with the increases SRU has seen in its enrollment. He estimated that SRU receives roughly $1,000 less per student than the total of what PASSHE receives per student.
After the open forum, SGA President Joey Sciuto moved to entertaining agenda items.
SGA voted to approve an initiative request by The Rocket for $6,490.90. The request, half of the paper’s budget, was requested after the SRSGA voted to cut club and organizational budgets 50% two weeks ago due to reduced fees collected this year.
Editor-in-chief Hannah Shumsky said that without the funds, recovery from the cuts would be difficult.
“As we continue to navigate through the pandemic, we need transparency more than ever, and we hope SGA sees the value of student journalism not only at SRU, but nationwide by approving this request,” Shumsky said in the open forum. “Without this request, our fees for national recognition and affiliation, printing fees, and online website fees will be cut to a point that would be difficult for us to speedily recover from before the start of the spring 2021 semester.”
Speaker of the Senate Kyle Mennor asked if approving the request would open the door for other clubs to do the same and if so, what would be the position of the senate.
Vice President of Finance Nate Desing said the majority of organizations have not touched their funds this semester and he did not expect there to be a high demand.
Shumsky added that The Rocket has already made budget cuts and shrunk its circulation to account for the reduced number of students on campus. They have also raised over $3,000 in ad revenue this semester, Shumsky said.
The senate approved the measure with Speaker Mennor as the lone dissenter.
SGA also unanimously recognized Chi Sigma Iota as an SRSGA organization. The professional honor society for those in the counseling field became the sixth organization approved this semester.
One of the last orders of business handled by the body was the nomination and approval of SGA Parliamentarian Grant Warmbein to the SGA Board of directors. Sciuto said Warbein was the only person to apply for the position.
Monday was the final formal meeting of SGA for the semester. They will be having an informal meeting Monday, Nov. 23 at 5 p.m. and the link can be found on CORE.