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Office of the Student Body President: Leaders stick to simplicity, rely on experience

Mary Kate Malone | Monday, December 11, 2006

Dealing a crushing defeat to their opponents in elections last February, Lizzi Shappell and Bill Andrichik won more than 50 percent of the vote in the general election, securing the student body presidency and vice presidency without a run-off.

But their sweeping victory didn’t dull their enthusiasm. Shappell and Andrichik quickly began tackling key platform goals even before they officially took office April 1.

Within the first two months of their term, the Student Senate’s ad hoc Minority Affairs committee was renamed the Multicultural Affairs committee and given official status in the Senate. Before year’s end, funding for the Collegiate Readership Program – which brings 1,600 copies of national newspapers to campus every weekday – was approved by the Council of Representatives and the Board of Trustees.

Shappell, especially, has positioned herself as the crux of student government – capitalizing on the momentum of former student body president Dave Baron, whom she served beneath as student body vice president and who was widely regarded as one of the best student leaders in recent history.

Shappell has built on the relationships she and Baron forged with University administrators, Student Union groups and the greater South Bend community last year. Still, Shappell and Andrichik’s platform goals might be too reflective of Baron’s legacy.

With the end of their term just four months away, they have yet to establish a cohesive vision of their own.

The hits

In her first State of the Student Union address last April, Shappell announced plans for a multi-faceted, campus-wide conference to examine and address eating disorders at Notre Dame – one of the most ambitious undertakings of her term.

The three-day conference, slated to take place in February, will include high-profile speakers and focus on biological, sociological and psychological approaches to eating disorders, from both the male and female perspective. Given Shappell’s identity as a female student leader, her commitment to raising awareness about eating disorders on campus is a fitting one.

Also, Shappell has connected her office with several Student Union groups – which was most obvious in her dealings with the Student Union Board last month regarding the explosive student football ticket lottery controversy.

When graduate students threatened to stage a protest after being excluded from the lottery, Shappell stood behind SUB’s decision to keep them out. Eventually the Office of Student Affairs intervened and called for graduate students to be included, but Shappell was consulted in the conversations.

Though she oversees SUB, her heavy involvement indicates the unity she has fostered within the Student Union.

For his part, Andrichik has been responsible for some of the administration’s most tangible achievements like three new Grab and Go choices and senior access to GoIrish, the University’s massive – and highly valuable – online alumni contact network

The misses

And then there’s community relations – a tired issue that Shappell and Andrichik have been talking about from the start.

The issue was one of Baron’s chief platform goals and major achievements, and

Shappell has adopted it as her own.

On Sept. 27, Shappell and Andrichik led a team of student leaders to the South Bend Common Council’s Health and Public Safety committee meeting – the second time students have met with the Common Council in recent history.

They went to the meeting hoping to convince council members to edit last summer’s amendment to the city’s disorderly house ordinance – which encourages landlords to evict tenants who commit first-offense noise violations.

Though they recognized it was a long shot, Shappell and Andrichik wanted to strike the eviction clause from the amendment.

But council members were not swayed, proving that relations between the two groups are far from comfortable. Now, Shappell is focusing on how the ordinance can be more fairly enforced. But if they aren’t careful, Shappell and Andrichik could seem like they’re undermining city legislation and further alienate students from the community.

Baron and Shappell’s presentation last spring to the University’s Board of Trustees on the disconnect between students and alumni was carried forward into the current administration with student-alumni receptions, which were held on three different Fridays of home football game weekends.

Despite the best efforts of Senate University Affairs committee chair Aly Baumgartner, the receptions were disappointing – with few students showing up.

Shappell and Andrichik also promised to address the Student Union’s carry-forward account, which currently has more than $100,000 sitting in it. There has been talk in recent years about using that money to create a programming fund, but Shappell and Andrichik have done little toward that end. Likewise, the pair has not extended the move-out period at the end of the spring semester, or convinced the administration to put a Food Services venue in the Hesburgh Library, both of which were original platform goals.

The student government Web site, which still says that Baron is student body president, has not been updated or utilized by Shappell and Andrichik.

Considering student apathy is a constant problem for all student government administrations, they should recognize that the Web site is integral in proving why student government matters.

The bigger picture

In a broader sense, Andrichik and Shappell do not have a defining issue for their term. Their steady work on community relations is laudable, but would have been impossible without the groundwork that Baron laid last year.

A “dialogue summit” between representatives from higher education institutions in the South Bend area and community leaders is still in the early planning stages, although the event is slated for February. If Shappell and Andrichik can pull it together, the event has the potential to be one of the defining accomplishments of their term.

The eating disorders conference, too, could become a cornerstone of their administration – as long as the Senate committee charged with coordinating the massive undertaking is able to make sure it has an impact.

Student apathy, as always, is still plaguing student government. A lack of interest on the part of most students deafens the accomplishments of Shappell and Andrichik’s hard work.

Wise or not, Shappell and Andrichik have saved their loftiest goals for the last four months of their term.

If the dialogue summit and eating disorders conference measure up to their potential, Shappell and Andrichik will leave big boots for their successors to fill.