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OFFICE OF THE STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT: Professionalism, progess help leaders succeed

Maddie Hanna | Sunday, December 11, 2005

While progress, partnership and professionalism can be hard to come by in student government administrations, student body president Dave Baron and vice president Lizzi Shappell have achieved all three.

“We feel it’s our responsibility,” Shappell said, “to put our position out there in the most formal and professional way possible.”

That professional attitude has helped Baron and Shappell during the first half of their tenure to form close ties with University administrators – a partnership necessary to make progress in a system where the University has the final say.

“We are limited in a lot of what we can do,” Baron said. “We’re not a governing body. We’re not in a position to demand changes or choices. Our power lies in our ability to make an argument …we figured that out pretty early on.”

Shappell said dealing with the South Bend Common Council’s July 25 passage of the amendment to the disorderly house ordinance -a change that has since resulted in six students’ evictions and several more notices to abate – has been one of the biggest challenges for her and Baron.

“It kind of just made our community relations piece a little more interesting,” she said. “I’m happy with the way we’ve addressed it so far.”

During the summer, Baron rallied a few other student government representatives in the South Bend area to attend South Bend Common Council meetings on behalf of the student body.

This year, Baron and Shappell established a Community Relations committee on Student Senate, which recently passed a resolution highlighting what senators believe to be unfair aspects of the amendment. The resolution will be presented at an upcoming Common Council meeting.

But would the same amount of attention be devoted to this issue if the amendment had never been proposed?

One of Baron and Shappell’s primary platform goals was to improve community relations, so there was certainly an element of foresight – and the ambition to tackle an issue other student government administrations have avoided.

However, other platform goals have not materialized.

A programming endowment was a hot topic during last spring’s election season, and candidates were forced to take a stand. Baron and Shappell promised to build an endowment by seeking alumni donors.

“Until this endowment becomes a reality,” the platform read, “we will increase the SUB concert budget, and contact other regional schools like Purdue and Northwestern to coordinate week-long tours that will attract quality performers.”

But the issue of the endowment was seemingly reintroduced only as a result of recent discussion on Student Union fiscal policy and the student government’s carry forward account, which currently contains an unused $180,000. Baron and Shappell recently met with vice president of University Relations Lou Nanni to discuss the possibility of creating such an endowment.

Why the delay?

“With the announcement of cable coming to dorms, the University has been putting out quite a bit of money to student life,” Baron said. “[A proposal for an endowment] wouldn’t have been received as well … there’s still plenty of time.”

It’s a valid argument, but it’s also the end of the semester. The fact that an issue so integral to the election campaign disappeared from the radar for this long suggests that it may not have been a priority, or that its feasibility was not fully considered.

Or it could mean that Baron and Shappell, like responsible student leaders, were just too busy dealing with issues that arose.

At times, it seemed like new waves of problems broke one after another. Besides the ordinance and student evictions, Baron and Shappell were confronted with coordinating a response to Hurricane Katrina as well as the messy issue of pep rallies and the dilemma in finding a balance between meeting total student demand and dealing with empty seats.

Shappell and other members of student government worked with the Student Activities Office and Athletics and Facilities administrators to refine the system. It still isn’t perfect – and its full effects won’t be seen until next fall – but Shappell and the others involved did what they could.

Another pillar of the Baron-Shappell campaign, a speaker series bringing prominent Catholics and non-Catholics to campus to discuss Notre Dame’s “role as a Catholic Think Tank of America,” has not yet occurred. While the event series is scheduled to begin next semester – at Student Senate meetings, chief executive assistant Liz Kozlow consistently assures senators the process is underway – Baron told The Observer last February he planned to have the first speaker in the series at Notre Dame before the end of the year.

Regardless of their currently unfulfilled promises, there’s no denying Baron and Shappell’s work ethic, as Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman pointed out in an Aug. 31 address to the Senate.

“These people have not been sleeping, I want you to know,” Poorman said. “In seven years, no administration has hit the ground running as well as David and Lizzi.”

Poorman’s words of praise were directed toward Baron and Shappell’s development of the Gender Resource Center, the acquisition of NDBay, the inauguration plans for University President Father John Jenkins and the deal with TRANSPO – one of the administration’s first and most concrete accomplishments, allowing students, faculty and staff to ride TRANSPO routes in between campus and South Bend for free.

What Baron and Shappell have accomplished has been primarily through small, carefully executed movements. A good example of this is the $15 increase in the student activities fee, the tentative sum result of two resolutions passed by Senate this semester – one to simply increase the fee, the other to modify the fixed allocation percentages of the Student Union constitution to allow for the implementation of the College Readership Program.

And while the University has not yet officially approved the proposal, Baron is almost positive it will go through. He’s already checked it out with Poorman.

“I feel like we’re not going to get as much done if we enter in a combative role,” Baron said. “It’s been a step-by-step process. That’s how it’s got to work.”

The approach makes sense given the pair’s seasoned student government background. Baron, a senior, served as freshman class president and chief executive assistant for last year’s Istvan administration, while Shappell, a junior, was last year’s Senate Gender Issues committee chair.

The Baron-Shappell response to problems surrounding the basketball ticketing system is also indicative of the pair’s overall philosophy. The perpetually frustrating issue has been stalled in student government for years now, and part of the pair’s platform was to improve the system, suggesting the expansion of TicketShare to a Web site and half season ticket packages.

True to the platform, the issue came up at one of the first Senate meetings of the new administration. Senators weren’t receptive to the idea of half season tickets, but the University Affairs committee scooped up the online TicketShare idea.

That never came through, but progress was made in establishing a “Moonlight Madness” event – the content of which was not decided by student government – and other modifications to the system, after extensive meetings with Director of Ticketing Operations Josh Berlo and other administrators.

“I think every interested student was able to get tickets this season,” Shappell said. “It’s a work in progress as all ticketing things are … baby steps.”

The recent developments with the Board of Trustees are also baby steps toward a bigger goal of getting a student to actually sit on the Board, Baron and Shappell said.

This year, the Board of Trustees has extended invitations to the pair to attend meetings focused on topics pertaining to students as well as Board social functions, a change Baron described as “excellent” and “reflective of the continually improving relationship between student government and the administration.”

The format of student government’s traditional triannual presentations to the Board has changed as well.

Under the new changes, the Board will hear a fall report from a student group, a winter State of the Student Union address from student government and a spring report from student government, unless student government designates another group to give the presentation.

This year, Baron, Shappell and Kozlow’s fall presentation on the ever-present topic of community relations garnered very positive feedback from the Board, a good indicator that student government is taking advantage of newly presented opportunities and working to develop a closer relationship with the Board, as well as the Jenkins administration.

“It’s important for the first student administration [under University President Father John Jenkins] to build a connection, set a good tone,” Baron said.

They’re committed to setting this tone, but Baron and Shappell have been enjoying themselves in the process.

“It’s got to be fun,” Baron said. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously or we’re going to lose our heads.”