David Liang, a second-year who served as a Class of 2022 representative last year, has started a think tank to research issues pertaining to Student Government (SG) at the University of Chicago.
The Campus Policy Research Institute (CPRI) will be funded by the student-led University of Chicago Democracy Initiative, an RSO, and plans to publish research on the viability of making SG an independent, non-profit organization and on the state of mental health on campus.
CPRI was started to address “underappreciated problems with the University,” said Liang, who ran for vice president of the student body last year.
For fall and winter quarter, the organization’s leaders say they will focus their efforts on the possibility, cost, and benefits of making SG a non-profit, as part of a campaign for student government independence from the University. They say they were inspired by the autonomous and independent SG organizations of Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.
“One of the problems we are going to kick off today is to study how pervasive the mental health problem is on our campus,” Liang said.
The organization aims to produce viable research, which can be used to inform SG and administrative decisions. “It’s borderline impossible to make sensible policies without proper data supporting your decisions,” Liang said. He added that they will collect data on the quantity of sleep per night students receive and workload students have as part of their analysis of mental health on campus.
Liang and CPRI deputy directors, second-year Jonah Fleishhacker and third-year Matthew Pinna, decided to focus on mental health and SG because they are the “issues most pertinent to student life at the moment,” Fleishhacker told The Maroon. The CPRI aims to “look at issues no one has ever looked at before.”
The organization will use primarily “quantitative measures” and, as a “nonpartisan, nonpolitical research group,” aim to be politically independent, according to Liang.
In the long term, the CPRI aims “to be a trusted source of information for decision makers at all different levels,” Liang said. “When [SG or the administration] need facts or data for decision making they can commission us for projects that they want us to look at.”
Liang believes the CPRI is “uniquely positioned to connect with our students and conduct research that they care about,” as opposed to studies the administration has done on campus issues over the past few months, due to the members’ status as undergraduate students. In regards to the University’s recent Campus Climate survey, Liang believes that “sensitive topics can get skewed data when collected by the administration.”
Third-year Joshua McKie, president of the University of Chicago Democracy Initiative (UCDI), which is funding the CPRI, told The Maroon that “the UCDI supports any initiative that advances democracy in any way, and this is a way for people to get more involved in issues on campus.”
The CPRI expects to publish initial project reports on SG independence and campus mental health late winter quarter.
“Regardless of our results, it’s an important step, no matter what, to educate the people,” Pinna said.