Report Card Graphic
Report Card Graphic

One year removed from creating perhaps its most wildly popular initiative, beginning major lobbying efforts in Annapolis and Washington to advocate for college affordability and reinstating the Collegiate Readership Program, the SGA floundered in the 2013-14 academic year.

What to Fix UMD, a Facebook page and Twitter profile designed to address student concerns around the campus, drew hundreds of student posts in spring 2013 and remains somewhat active. But investigations into many concerns remain incomplete or haven’t received any attention whatsoever.

After rolling out a new student group funding process last spring, the Student Government Association weathered a storm of complaints from groups that failed to receive funding, many of which cited a lack of communication on the SGA’s part regarding the new rules as the reason for the mix-ups.

Most embarrassingly, on April 20, with the SGA campaign season about to begin, the association’s lone presidential candidate, Josh Ratner, was found ineligible to run due to a low GPA. After scrambling to find a replacement candidate, the Open Party went uncontested in all but one race.

Patrick Ronk will succeed former two-year President Samantha Zwerling at the SGA’s helm. Hopefully the organization will put its two lackluster semesters in the rearview this fall and echo the success of the 2012-13 academic year.

This year saw university President Wallace Loh confront two of the biggest, most publicly scrutinized tests of his three-and-a-half-year tenure: A data breach that affected hundreds of thousands in the university community and a stretch of Route 1 that proved dangerous — and sometimes deadly — for pedestrians.

The university’s much-lauded partnership with the Corcoran Gallery of Art fell through, and the academic year again was set against the dramatic backdrop of the impending Big Ten move.

Simply put, Loh had a lot on his plate this year. And for the most part, he delivered in trying times. The university admittedly handled some issues poorly — the data breach chief among them — but Loh and other administrators’ achievements can’t be discounted. The university finally made progress with long-stagnant East Campus developments, and Loh listened to the community’s qualms when the university golf course faced rezoning and redevelopment.

Loh’s honeymoon period at this university might be over as he faces increased scrutiny, but there’s a reason he’s remained immensely popular — he seems to care about each member of the university community.

The numbers aren’t kind: In the past 11 months, five pedestrians have been struck at the intersection of Route 1 and Knox Road. Two — university student Cory Hubbard and George Washington University student Carlos Pacanins — died from their injuries.

On April 15, two days after Pacanins’ death, the College Park City Council sent a letter to the State Highway Administration requesting safety improvements — which have been painfully slow in coming. University Police and city officials have done what they can, including issuing hundreds of jaywalking warnings and citations to pedestrians and posting electronic billboards warning pedestrians and drivers, but those efforts haven’t sufficed.

Two more pedestrians have been struck since Pacanins died crossing the highway, and while students need to be more responsible, the SHA’s lack of timely action is putting more lives at risk.

Three months after a heated College Park City Council race between District 3 Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich and university graduate student Matthew Popkin highlighted tensions between city residents and students, the City Council voted to lower the required age to take office to 18 — and Stullich provided the deciding vote.

Beyond promoting student involvement in city government, the council is investigating enfranchising noncitizen residents and voicing support for the Fairness for All Marylanders Act. After the string of accidents involving pedestrians on Route 1, the council has lobbied the State Highway Administration to speed up safety changes to the highway.

In addition, the council has approved a long list of economic initiatives to improve College Park’s appeal to prospective university students and city residents, mainly with the upcoming residential project located in the lot formerly inhabited by the Maryland Book Exchange and with the Hollywood Farmers Market. This year, the City Council has taken strides to allow for increased participation in government for several parties, including students at this university, and with any luck, that means improved student-resident relations are finally on the horizon.

After this university announced an unknown attacker had gained access to the Social Security numbers, birth dates and university IDs of almost 300,000 students, faculty and staff members dating back to 1998, it mishandled the situation from its beginning to its uncertain end.

Hastily established call centers were overwhelmed by those seeking answers, university emails failed to notify many alumni of the breach and many faced difficulty signing up for the free credit monitoring service provided by Experian. As estimates of the number affected were continually revised, it also came to light that after a university contractor discovered a cybersecurity threat months before the breach, the FBI seized his computer equipment.

Though the university set up a cybersecurity task force in the wake of the breach and extended credit monitoring service from one year to five, the manner in which the university initially botched its management of the affair rightfully raised student, faculty, staff and alumni concerns.

A great deal of shock and anger followed university President Wallace Loh’s announcement in November 2012 that the university would join the Big Ten this July. The university since has weathered an Open Meetings Act violation allegation, a prolonged legal battle over a hiked $52 million ACC exit fee and childish backlash from the ACC, which has denied university athletic teams participation in coach meetings and has reportedly withheld more than $16 million in revenue.

In the face of such adversity, university officials have responded with grit, creating promotional campaigns to prepare the university for conference realignment and fighting to stay above water during the final weeks in a hostile conference.

The university has committed itself to preserving a once-hemorraghing athletic department through promised revenue increases in the new conference and strengthened academics through membership in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation. As the university’s time in the ACC winds down, the future looks bright in the Big Ten.

The first year of the university’s expanded Code of Student Conduct, approved by the University Senate last spring, went off smoothly for the most part. During the first few months after the expansion, which extended Office of Student Conduct jurisdiction off the campus, the number of misconduct referrals surprisingly dropped, likely as a result of the university’s outreach efforts.

The senate also approved three graduate certificate programs and considered legislation mandating midsemester grade reporting and requesting the reinstatement of Department of Transportation Services’ second appeals process. It passed a framework that attempts to create new promotional ladders with clearly defined ranks for non-tenure track faculty, a traditionally marginalized group that faced difficulties in career advancement.

Though some of last year’s goals remained unfulfilled — notably, effectively enforcing the campus smoking ban and mandating sexual assault prevention education — the senate this year has demonstrated its commitment to improving students’ and faculty members’ university experiences.

The state General Assembly didn’t garner as much publicity or controversy as it did last academic year, when on the night of the presidential election, voters became the first in the nation to uphold a same-sex marriage referendum, passed the DREAM Act to permit many undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates and voted to authorize a sixth state casino.

The General Assembly wasn’t any less active this year, however, in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s final year in office, passing a number of bills benefiting students at this university. Lawmakers moved to cap University System of Maryland tuition rate increases at a modest 3 percent for the fifth straight year. O’Malley signed a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2018. Legislators moved to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014, which would prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals, passed in the Senate.

The General Assembly pushed through bills aimed at improving quality of life for the state’s college population and traditionally marginalized groups, and for that, it deserves praise.