NEWS

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May 7, 2004

Campus politicians resist change

The College Council tabled a resolution Monday that would have established a precedent for the College Council setting policy, taking some legislative control away from the executive slate. The tabled resolution seeks to increase the transparency of the Student Government Finance Committee (SGFC).

Cameron Downing moved to table the resolution, and Robert Hubbard seconded the motion. Both were members of the College Council while running on executive slates for student government. Election voting was in progress during the meeting.

Despite the tabling of the College Council resolution on Monday, the full year of SGFC minutes were put online on Wednesday by the executive slate. They are also posted on the SG bulletin board in the Reynolds Club.

David Clayman, the first-year class officer who introduced the resolution, said before the vote that the idea of enforcing SGFC transparency had come up often during the year, but no action had ever been taken.

Bo Shan, SG president and Web master, declined to comment about the posting of the SGFC minutes, only saying that they were posted. It was particularly easy for Shan to post the minutes online, given the fact that he happens to be both president and web-master.

Sharlene Holly, director of the Office of Reynolds Club and Student Activities, said that she did not know why Shan had never before put up the minutes. "I do know that there's no system in place for this to automatically happen," Holly said. "That's probably something we should be working on."

David Courchaine, a first-year class officer, emphasized that there was plenty of blame to go around. "Nobody has ever tried to publicize it."

"It would make the most sense for the members of SGFC to make the information public since they are the ones creating the recommendations. On the other hand, it is secondarily the responsibility of the College and Graduate Councils to publicize the info," he said, via e-mail.

Courchaine bemoaned the perception of Student Government. "We don't want the student body to think that you have to have the executive slate do everything. College Council is capable of doing anything the executive slate can do. The only difference is the title," explained Courchaine.

Other resolutions were passed on Monday that fall into this category. They were resolutions standardizing meeting times and authorizing the Council to take official stances on campus issues.

Still, the resolution enforcing SGFC transparency was a lightning rod. Courchaine said that it bothered him that Hubbard, as a two-year member of SGFC, had not publicly tried to post SGFC minutes until now. "He was a prime person to do that all year. He knows that the records aren't published."

SGFC has nine members. Besides Downing and Hubbard, who have each served on SGFC for two years, the other College Council members who sit on the committee are Yenisey Rodriguez, new this year, and Ben Mainzer, a three-year member. Mainzer, as the chair, does not vote on funding decisions.

Noeline Arulgnanendran, the slate's vice president of administration; Diana Doty, an advocate for RSOs; and three members of Graduate Council hold the other five positions. Neither Arulgnanendran nor Doty vote.

Downing's Slate of the Union and Hubbard's Raising the BAR slate had made the issue of publicizing SGFC funding decisions part of their platforms.

Hubbard responded by saying that running for the executive slate was a process. "It's not like I've been running since the beginning of the year," he said. "Our candidate for vice president of administration is a first-year grad student who I didn't meet until a few weeks ago. We didn't sit down until later to decide what our platform would be."

During discussion of the resolution, Hubbard said he thought that passing the resolution would "step on the toes" of the executive slate.

"I don't think it is the responsibility of College Council to make these rules regarding student government," Hubbard said. "It's hard sitting on the College Council and setting rules for a committee that you sit on yourself. That's why the slate's advisory role is primary and the College Council's is secondary. The executive slate's vice president of administration can thus control the documentation that comes out of the meeting."

Part of the reason the College Council waited until the week of elections was that the Council instituted, on Clayman's initiative, the resolution format just three weeks ago. "Up until then everything was unofficial because no one ever wrote anything down," Courchaine said. "Nothing official ever really happened."

"People say that College Council never really does anything," he added. "Well, those rumors are true, up until three weeks ago."

Downing said that Clayman made an "indelible contribution. I wish I had thought of it."

For his part, Downing said that he moved to table the resolution because he felt the appropriate mechanism to increase SGFC transparency was the Student Assembly, not the College Council. The Student Assembly is a joint session of the College and Graduate Councils that meets about twice a quarter.

"Because we don't have conference structures to pass resolutions separately, I can't assume that two councils passing a resolution on the same issue is the same as what would come out of a joint session," Downing said. However, I do agree with the resolution and will support it in the [Student] Assembly."

The Assembly does not meet often enough to work out truly time-consuming issues and when it does, dealing with 30 people is really hard. "It makes sense to have a format for passing resolutions back and forth, seeing what the other body has done, and coming to a conclusion."

Another concern brought up by Clayman in the debate was College Council's approval of SGFC's minutes. Technically, he pointed out, SGFC's minutes have to be approved by the College Council and he advocated discussing the minutes as a way to increase openness and accountability. "Up until now, we have acted as a rubber stamp," he explained.

Vanessa Tantillo, a first-year class officer, said that debating the minutes in College Council would obstruct the balance of power in student government.

Yenisey Rodriguez, a second-year class officer, pointed out that it was for that reason that the student assembly elects a separate body to make funding decisions.

"SGFC has accountability to RSOs," Rodriguez said. "If [College Council] sits here and debates SGFC minutes, the process will not produce quick, responsive decisions."

"We debate these things for six hours in SGFC and we could discuss them for another six in here," chimed in Hubbard.

Courchaine added: "Next year, you should expect SGFC and College Council to take more responsibility when it comes to making information public."