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Open Forums Precede Critical Student Vote [Updated]

Proposal: Student stipends slashed, organizations to report to a new student president

Editorial comment: Massive and hasty student organization restructure plans demand student attention. The Independent believes these drastic changes are being pushed through without sufficient student knowledge and understanding. The vote to adopt these plans takes place Jan. 23 and Jan. 24 (only today and tomorrow) and will be decided by a simple majority.  We urge our students to read the Independent’s coverage (below, and here, and here) to make an informed decision and vote via Blackboard.  

Proposed changes to the student organization structure that include new allocation procedures, a large decrease in student stipends, and a new student body president position that will oversee all student organizations including the student government association and a new treasury board were the subject of open forums held Jan. 16 and 17 in Anderson Hall.

The forums, moderated by Amanda Villanueva, assistant dean of students, were held to inform students and faculty about the changes and answer questions ahead of a student vote that will be held by ballot via Blackboard from Jan. 23-24.  At least 40 total students attended the forums.

According to Villanueva, the changes, proposed last semester, will be implemented after the general elections are held to elect new student leaders in February. The changes are part of a structural overhaul of the Student Organization Committee designed to help accommodate the increased student enrollment outlined in UST President Richard Ludwick’s “Call Toward Tomorrow” plan.

Under the proposed model, the Student Government Association will no longer handle student activity fee allocations. A newly established treasury board will oversee the allocations, including student organization budget requests and travel requests at its monthly meetings.

Student Organization Council, Recreational Sports Council and the SGA will all receive a budget from the Treasury at the beginning of each school year; they will be able to request additional funds if needed, Villanueva said, although the request procedure has not yet been determined. The Treasury itself will not receive funds.

Villanueva called the new Treasury “a one-stop-shop” for monetary requests. “It streamlines things, and it doesn’t create confusion between who is reimbursing whom,” she said.

According to Villanueva, the new model will also increase fiscal responsibility because the Treasury’s financial report will made public.

“That’s something we want to do for that transparency, so that we can be held accountable for our actions,” Villanueva said.

Villanueva said UST currently pays an approximate total of $81,000 in stipends to about 30 students. Under the new model, the University would reduce that payout to a total $32,000, to be distributed among a capped number of 27 student leaders.

According to Villanueva, the saved $49,000 could help pay for entertainment, food and professional development for students.

“That is still high, comparatively, [to] other institutions– many don’t pay at all– but we think that for our students and what they do, and how involved they are, that we still think that they deserve to be paid,” Villanueva said.

Although UST currently does not have a formally elected student body president, the SGA president has traditionally fulfilled that role. Under the proposed model, however, an “official” student president will be elected from the student body; that president will act independently of SGA and oversee the Executive Council, which comprises the heads of all five organizations that compose the new model: SGA, the Treasury, Traditional Events, Campus Initiatives, and Diversity and Inclusion. These heads will all be referred to as vice presidents under the new model, including the current position of SGA president.

In an email to the Independent, Villanueva wrote that the SGA president currently has to balance the dual roles of serving as the head of the senate and representing the student body “in matters related to Dr. Ludwick’s office” such as hiring committees. “In this proposed model, we discussed removing the senate responsibilities from the student body president’s purview so that the person in that role can focus exclusively on overseeing the Executive Council (all of the VPs listed in the structure) as well as serving Dr. Ludwick well,” Villanueva wrote.  “Through this position, they can know the ins and outs of what each organization is planning, and [have] the ability to speak intelligently toward our board members as well as our students.”

Eligibility requirements for student body president have not yet been established, but both undergraduate and graduate students will be eligible to run for the position, according to Villanueva.

Each of the five organizations will have a board composed by four students. Treasury board members will be nominated by the vice president of the Treasury, with the Executive Council holding veto power over those nominations.

This is a developing story.  The Independent will continue to cover the voting process and outcome.

The following are some questions and answers from both of the open forums. The questions were answered by Villanueva, Shundeez Faridifar, assistant director of student activities, and various student organization leaders, with Villanueva moderating. We have summarized those answers that are not in direct quotes.

Q: “So what other responsibilities will the Senate have under this model, because the biggest ones right now are allocations and money?”

A (Villanueva): “No other SGA does that, and so now they can really take that off their plates and stop worrying about it and really do true SGA legislation and they can go travel and go to SGA conferences and see what other schools are doing as well. It would give them a chance to do exactly what they do during the fall semester but just increase it for the spring.”

Q: “For Campus Initiatives, are those four people going to be in charge of school spirit, sustainability, and volunteerism, or are there going to be specific people that are delegated to each one?”

A (Villanueva): “It kind of depends on how they want to structure themselves…Lindsey (McPherson, dean of students) kind of spoke of this… that this is the most flexible of the positions because they really can run on a true platform. However they really want to structure it, it is up to them.”

Q: “Why exactly is the vice president of Diversity and Inclusion and Campus Activities Board not under the same silo? It seems to me that both of them deal with events that happen on a monthly basis.”

A (Villanueva):  “What we found was that it would create smaller events for and kind of treat the Diversity and Inclusion events as a step-child again. We want them to have their own platform to be up and elevated because we don’t want them to be small monthly events. We don’t want tiny, small coffee-and-donuts things. We want them to be larger and to have that elevation.”

Q: “Why shouldn’t we rather use the office of student activities under the new model and have them promote those clubs and give them the funds to have those large events rather than creating an entirely new silo?”  

A (Faridifar): “One of the reasons is there are clubs… that could be active one semester and not active the next semester. So does that mean that we just don’t celebrate Hispanic Heritage month this year, just because we don’t have an active club this year? So [Diversity and Inclusion] is a way to make sure that it is going to be consistent, that we are going to be doing these different celebrations.”

Q: “Are LGBT communities included in the Diversity and Inclusion organization?”

A (Villanueva): Villanueva explained that the communities listed in the diagram under Diversity and Inclusion were just examples. “When that group is formed, we were going to leave it to them to see what they wanted to do and how that was going to work.”

Q: “What is the initiative of school spirit besides wearing red on Fridays?”

A (Villanueva): “It is much more than that. It is about having pride…in what you do. For our students [it is about] attending athletic events and knowing that we have athletes on campus. Especially with us going DIII, we will have a lot more athletes on this campus and we need to support them, because they don’t get a lot of slack in the classroom.”

Villanueva also that school spirit is about knowing “who we are” as a school. “I still hear people say ‘Selts’ [sic]. I still see people wear red and black instead of red and gold’.

Villanueva also mentioned that Campus Initiatives “is not an initiative of school spirit in and of itself; it is an initiatives one, so that would just be one component.”

Q: “Why do we have three separate organizations [Traditional Events, Campus Initiatives, and Diversity] that still have to request money from the Treasury board? What is the solvency for the larger branches?”

 

A (Villanueva):“We wanted to keep control in the students’ hands. The alternative I can imagine is that everybody get an off-the-top percentage, and what we heard is that students want a say in where their student dollars go. Through this model, the power is still in the hands of the students.

Julie Parra, coordinator of residence life: “If we keep the system that we have, we’re fighting a lot of history…When we restructure and streamline, you also get to create new things and then it is up to [the students] to create a new culture that is what we are looking for and what you are looking for.”

Q: “Seeing a— hopefully—increase in efficient spending and fiscal responsibility with this model, would we see less spending overall of the student activity fee? Is it going to be possible that the student activity fee could be reduced? ”

A: (Villanueva): “We have no control over that. That is a board of directors’ [decision]. We don’t get to set that.”

Q: “Will [the budgets for the Senate and clubs] be decided by the Treasury beforehand?”

A (Villanueva): “What we are going to do is that if this passes, we will look at, like, the last three-to-five years of what has been spent… to kind of get an average… and look at what those percentages are based on… If student population increases, that amount will hopefully be consistent and increase with it.”

Q:  “How are you going to ensure that every year all of these [cultural] events, that the people in charge of [Diversity and Inclusion] make it happen, and how are they going to know how to program an event for a first-gen student? Also, how would a Hispanic student going to program an event for Black History month?”

A (Villanueva): “This is about communication and benchmarking other institutions, seeing what they do and coming to the table with great ideas that other schools do as well, and also tapping our own students.”

Villanueva also mentioned the possibility of having a Diversity Council that runs a subcommittee. “Just because you might identify as a few… identities does not mean you cannot support others and promote them as well.”

Q: “All of the vice presidents and Recreational Sports organizations, I am assuming will all have a board. Can you talk about the vetting process?”

A (Villanueva): “We find tremendous value in the centralized leadership process and so we would still be using that over any method because we think it is beneficial for our students to go through that…but I am not handcuffed to it.

Villanueva also mentioned that the board for the Treasury would be selected differently from the boards of Campus Initiatives, Diversity and Initiative, Senate, and Traditional Events. The vice president of Treasury would ask the other vice presidents for recommendations on who should sit on the Treasury committee. Once the vice president of Treasury selects eight names, the names will be taken to the Executive Council, who can veto a person with just cause. Although there will be three advisors on the board, they would be non-voting members. All money is directly voted on by students for students.

Q: “Are households included in the structure?”

A (Villanueva): “SHA is not going to be chartered organization and they are not going to fall under registered student organizations.”

(Faridifar): “They’re just going to be a separate group on their own.”

(Villanueva): “SHA doesn’t currently take any of the student activity funds. They are independent of it and fund themselves.”

Q: “Why are [students] voting [on the structure] so early? [The new model] just seems really speculative.”

A (Villanueva): “It was announced in the Celt Independent in December and it was put in a letter then…But if we don’t enact it now, our old election code kicks in next week, and so if we don’t do this now our old one will supersede and we will be married to the old election and structure. And that is why we worked on it last semester, tried to finish it up, but it didn’t work, and so [the student organization restructure committee] have been supposedly talking to their constituents and their friends so that hopefully this was not so much of a surprise…If this approves… we still have our general elections to vote for all of those spots and we can capture any changes between now and those elections and make those adjustments.”

Q: How many votes does [the structure] have to get to pass?

A (Villanueva): Villanueva said the structure just needs a majority vote. “So, if three people voted and two people say ‘yes,’ this would pass.”

Villanueva has encouraged students to send questions or suggestions to:  ingersa@stthom.edu

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