Leaders’ decisions represent student concerns
Joe McMahon | Thursday, December 11, 2008
Since student body president Bob Reish and vice president Grant Schmidt took office on Apr. 1, the pair have expanded the programming side of the executive office while still representing students’ concerns in front of the University administration and South Bend community leaders.
Reish and Schmidt’s programming, or event planning, background has brought a new element to the executive office. The administration has focused heavily on student-driven issues, and in order to help gauge what students wanted most, they helped design a survey with the Senate Student Outreach Committee that was completed by over 3,600 students.
“I think we don’t feel as much ties to previous administrations as others have in the past, so when you look at programming and policy, we really want to see, what is the need of the student body, and if this really isn’t a need, then we put it to the back burner,” Reish said.
One of the most popular programs was the “Last Lecture” Series. Students flooded into the Coleman-Morse Center to hear anthropology professor James McKenna speak. Another widely discussed event was the mock election, which received national press coverage.
“We always refer to trying to change the brand of student government,” Schmidt said.
Reish and Schmidt have not solely dedicated their time to programming either, but have found a balance between programming and policy. One major policy initiative was the change in the constitution allowing student groups based on political parties to support their party’s candidates.
“Regardless of whether people recognize it as being a huge success or not, for future years it will be successful,” Schmidt said. “The changes now allow the students to be able to campaign for their candidate.”
Two pending initiatives call for an online syllabi database, which will help students choose classes, and the installation of printers in every dorm.
During their campaign, Reish and Schmidt said they found the number of students who were apathetic towards student government alarming, and one of the major focal points of their administration has been changing that perception.
“One of the biggest things we’ve done is not eliminate, but help change student apathy regarding student government,” Reish said. “I think we’ve provided events this year, and done some things that are showing student interest.”
Reish cited the fact that his office received 60 percent more applications for student government positions than last year. However, in a recent survey conducted by the Senate Student Outreach Committee, 40.7 percent of respondents said they did not know anything about the Student Union and 71.6 percent said they were unsure if there was an undergraduate student union constitution.
“It’s valuable they know it,” Reish said. “But then again, [for] students it really doesn’t affect their daily lives.”
However, one of the key ways Reish and Schmidt have made student government more approachable is on the programming side. The Freshman Leadership Experience (FLEX) Program, which is intended for freshmen who are interested in student government but weren’t selected for their class council, has 32 members who will work on the policy side of student government.
“The fact that these 32 freshmen are actually going to get involved in student leadership doesn’t look big now, but in four years those people will have a whole year of experience as a leg up,” Reish said.
Another initiative Reish and Schmidt have implemented was the student government DVD rental program, located near the student government office on the second floor of LaFortune.
Off-campus issues, which defined former student body president Liz Brown’s administration, will undoubtedly prove to be Reish and Schmidt’s biggest challenge going forward. Last year, Brown was able to negotiate with community leaders to lessen the severity of a proposed ordinance, which would have required the registration of “gatherings” (i.e. parties) in all “boarding houses” (i.e. student houses).
According the South Bend Police Department Captain Phil Trent, residential burglaries have increased 27 percent in the area since January. Students have dealt with numerous incidents. According to the student government’s survey, 78.9 percent of students said they do not feel safe walking off campus at night.
“If you ask students what they are most concerned about and what they would like to see student government do, they would say that they better figure out how to protect us and make off campus safer,” Schmidt said.
Reish and Schmidt have begun working to help make the area off campus safer, initiating programs, such as the question and answer session on crime prevention with the South Bend Police Department that took place Tuesday. The administration has also worked with the Senate Community Relations Committee on developing an off-campus listserv and Web site, as well as hosting block parties in conjunction with Kramer Properties that help students and their neighbors get to know one another.
“This doesn’t just involve student government; this involves the city and the University,” Reish said. “Developing an off-campus listserv is important because there is no way to communicate with all the students that live off campus. Smaller things will help resolve the bigger picture.”
Reish and Schmidt moved to form the Off-Campus Safety Student Committee, which will be chaired by current off-campus president Billy Lyman. In addition to working on the listserv and the upcoming question and answer session, the committee is planning a “Know Your Rights” Forum for early in the spring semester.
The pair has also worked well with the University administration on the issue, and student safety off campus was one of the focal points of their recent presentation to the Board of Trustees.
But little has been done in the Community Campus Advisory Coalition (CCAC) – the body that was formed as part of the compromise for a weakened ordinance. However, Reish and Schmidt said the relationships built by Brown with community leaders such as Mayor Steve Luecke and Common Council Members Al “Buddy” Kirsits and Ann Puzzello are strong.
“I think there was a need for me to call Ms. Puzzello … or Mayor Luecke, we could easily do that, but there really hasn’t been a pressing need for that,” Schmidt said.
Brown committed herself to collaborating with these leaders and worked hard to open the channels of communication. During their campaign, Reish and Schmidt promised to build on these relationships by getting student representation at South Bend Common Council Meetings and by extending invitations to Notre Dame student government meetings to Common Council Members – neither of which has come to fruition.
Last Lecture Series
2008 Election awareness
Use of Efficient Energy Light bulbs (though this is mostly GreeND)
Collegegovs.com (evolved from Midwest Intercollegiate Council)
Senate Student Outreach Committee
Free DVD rentals
Online Syllabi Database
University Excused Absences for Underclassmen Interviews (pending Faculty Senate approval next semester)
Online Registration for RecSports Intramurals
Provide Student Legal Services
Off-campus student discount program
Renovating the LaFortune Arcade
Improved Drinking Water in Rockne Memorial
Student Representation at South Bend Common Council Meetings
Encourage Same-Sex Dorm-Sponsored Events