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Penn History

This exhibit was created in August 2006 by University Archives Summer Research Fellow Seth S. Tannenbaum, an undergraduate at Vassar College

One possible reason the student body became less interested in the concept of student government was due to the creation of the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education, or SCUE as its commonly known today, in 1965. SCUE served to voice the concerns of all undergraduates relating to their academic education as well as to explore new possibilities for the education of Penn’s undergraduate students. By the early twenty-first century, SCUE members numbered between 35 and 40 and were selected to serve on SCUE by a six-member Steering Committee. The Steering Committee itself is elected by the entire Committee each year. SCUE never had power over students, so its members never were regarded as an intrusive authority by students.

In the years following the loss of importance of student government organizations to students at Penn, student governance made a comeback. Currently there are a number of student government organizations at Penn.

Each under graduate class at the University has a Class Board. Each class elects a president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary, vice president of corporate sponsorship, and representatives from each undergraduate school. Class Boards are responsible for providing “social programming which will instill a sense of class and school spirit, unity and pride, and break through social barriers.”

The Social Planning and Events Committee (SPEC) was founded in 1990 and does essentially what the Houston Hall and Bennett Union Boards did for years, planning social events for Penn undergraduates. SPEC has ten subcommittees including those responsible for film screenings on campus, concerts on campus, representation of the interests of undergraduate minorities, the organization of lecturers and speakers, art on campus, and the Spring Fling.

The Student Activities Council (SAC) is an organization in which all student clubs have a voice and a forum in which to share their concerns. SAC is composed of representatives from approximately 180 “non-governance organizations and clubs” on the Penn campus, but is guided by a nine-member executive committee at its meetings and in its administrative actions. It exists to “recognize, supervise, and fund undergraduate activities, to provide for greater communication and cooperation among activities and between the activities and the University administration, and to work for improvements in the quality of student life at the University of Pennsylvania.” SAC is responsible for distributing money to student organizations and determining which new clubs to officially recognize.

The Nominations and Elections Committee (NEC) is in charge of all student government elections regardless of class year and school affiliation, appointing undergraduates to committees on which undergraduates sit, determining what groups’ leaders will sit on the University Council, and receiving feedback from the committees to which it appoints students. NEC is composed of approximately 25 students who are selected by the membership of the NEC through an application process and named to serve for the rest of their undergraduate career at Penn. The chair of the NEC also serves on the University Council, holding one of the Undergraduate Assembly’s seats.

The Undergraduate Assembly (UA) is Penn’s umbrella student governance organization and is charged with representing undergraduates in affairs “that they deem are of general University interest.” The UA is made up of thirty-three representatives who hail from all the undergraduate schools as well as representatives from the freshman class. Each representative serves a one year term. As the number of undergraduates in each school changes with time, so too do the numbers of students from each school in the UA. The UA has a budget of over $1 million which it uses to fund the other branches of student government. The UA operates committees which study the budget, campus life, development, facilities, housing, and education. The UA also fills ten seats on the University Council.

Since the opening of Houston Hall in the late nineteenth century, Penn students have always had some sort of voice in the governance of the University. In the years since then, Penn students and student government organizations have only grown more powerful and become more involved with the governance of the University. As the twenty-first century rolls along, Penn undergraduate student government is as wide-reaching, powerful, influential, and important as it has ever been. There is no evidence that this will not remain the case for at least the foreseeable future.