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Student government briefs trustees

Marcela Berrios | Friday, February 8, 2008

Student body president Liz Brown’s administration told members of the University’s Board of Trustees Thursday that most of its work this year has been determined by unforeseen and pressing events rather than pre-established goals. But these unexpected issues “did not debilitate our capacity to fulfill campaign promises,” Brown said during her administration’s second briefing this year to the Board’s Student Affairs Committee.

She cited the South Bend Common Council’s proposed party permit ordinance as the best example of an unanticipated situation that required attention. But because her October briefing was devoted to a discussion of the ordinance and community relations, Brown focused Thursday on the other pressing events.

These included the increase in prices for course packets, a surge of student interest in environmental issues and the need for a modified follow-up to the Notre Dame Forum on immigration in the fall.

The increase in course packet prices, Brown said, was an issue her administration had to deal with after many students and faculty members started complaining.

Student body vice president Maris Braun said that on average, prices increased by more than 35 percent from the previous year – a result of the University’s decision to transfer course packet sales to the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore and to move the copyright review process to an external corporation.

“It became clear we needed to respond to this issue in a timely and practical fashion and in a way that was representative of how the student body felt,” Braun said.

She told the trustees that the Student Senate’s Academic Affairs Committee surveyed more than 1,000 students to learn more about the popular opinion regarding the issue.

The committee’s chair, senior Carol Hendrickson, presented the survey’s results – which said the student body was “overwhelmingly dissatisfied” with the price markups – to the Bookstore, the University Libraries, the Office of Information Technology, the campus copy centers and the faculty.

By the start of the spring semester, several colleges – including the College of Arts and Letters – had placed some of their course packets back in academic copy centers. And the course packets that are still being sold at the Hammes Bookstore don’t have a retail markup, Braun said.

But even though course packets are once again available at campus copy centers, she said students are still paying about 10 percent more than they would’ve paid in the past – a result of the increased royalty fees to the company that handles the copyright review process.

“The Senate has encouraged faculty members to put their course materials online, using the Libraries’ electronic reserves, to keep costs down for the students,” Braun said. “That way they can choose if they print out the documents or just read them online.”

Executive assistant Sheena Plamoottil talked to trustees about the unexpected surge of interest in “green” issues observed among students, faculty members and administrators during the fall semester.

The creation of the Office of Sustainability by Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves, as well as the announcement that next year’s Notre Dame Forum will be titled “Charting a Sustainable Energy Future,” proved environmental issues were a hot topic, Plamoottil said.

Student government worked closely with the Student Advisory Board and the University’s Energy and Environmental Issues Committee (E&EIC) to put on the first annual “Energy Week” and increase student awareness regarding energy consumption. The success of Energy Week facilitated “an unprecedented collaborative effort” between student government, the E&EIC, the Notre Dame Energy Center and Student Activities this semester to host Green Summit, Plamoottil said.

And while the environment proved to be a popular topic among students last semester, immigration was not, Brown said. She said she originally expected the issue to take center stage in the same way the global health crisis did after being the focus of the 2006 Notre Dame Forum.

In response, she made immigration the first topic in the first-ever student-faculty contemporary issues debate series, one of Brown’s campaign goals for the 2007-08 year.

And she reevaluated her approach to the discussion of immigration at Notre Dame. Brown said she no longer measures the success of the 2007 Forum according to the number of related clubs and task forces born after or the actions of students regarding immigration.

“Instead, we’re looking at how the Forum has intellectually engaged students,” Brown said.

Her administration is preparing the first-ever Student Forum, scheduled for April and focused on immigration. Unlike the Notre Dame Forum, this event will be student-run and will feature students from different ideologies and backgrounds as panelists, in an effort to facilitate further debate on the issue.

Brown said she is looking to bring a nationally recognized moderator to campus to attract as many students as possible.

“We are aware we might not see the outburst of enthusiasm seen after the forum on global health but we hope students who attend this event will walk away intellectually engaged in this discussion and having developed an opinion of their own,” Brown said.