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Leaders present to Board of Trustees

JOHN TIERNEY | Friday, February 5, 2010

Student government is prioritizing seven initiatives for the rest of the year, student body president Grant Schmidt told the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees at a meeting Thursday.

The Notre Dame Forum, the University events calendar, the Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life, pep rallies, the dissolution of the Department of Economics and Policy Studies, the acceptance of gay and lesbian members of the community and the selection of the Commencement speaker are “the issues of most pressing concern” for students, Schmidt said.

Student body vice president Cynthia Weber said the three most important issues are the acceptance of gay and lesbian members of the community, the dissolution of Economics and Policy Studies and the pro-life task force.

Acceptance of gay and lesbian members of the community
Weber said the University must work to “better accept people of different sexual orientations.

“Notre Dame has made enormous progress, but there’s still a lot more progress to be made,” Weber said.

She cited the 1997 creation of the Core Council as an example of the University’s attempt to be more accepting of gay and lesbian students.

The Core Council “serves pastoral and resource needs” for gay and lesbian members of the community, but student government hopes to address “policy issues,” Weber said.

Student Senate recently passed a two-part resolution to address these policy issues.

The resolution proposed establishing a task force under the leadership of the Office of Student Affairs composed of members of the Core Council, the Gender Relations Center, student government, faculty and other campus organizations.

It also encouraged the administration to add sexual orientation to the University’s non-discrimination clause. Weber said student government researched non-discrimination clauses at other Catholic universities and found that they remained loyal to Church teaching while providing protection for gay and lesbian members of the community.

“It is the unanimous opinion” of the Student Senate that both changing the University’s non-discrimination policy and creating a task force are necessary to make progress on accepting gay and lesbian students, faculty, and staff, Weber said.

Dissolution of Economics and Policy Studies

Students are concerned by College of Arts and Letters Dean John McGreevy’s lack of transparency as he moves to dissolve the Department of Economics and Policy Studies, student government chief of staff Ryan Brellenthin said.

“The decisions were made without student input and the process was not revealed to the student body,” Brellenthin said.

“It was almost as if they were hoping students weren’t paying attention,” he said.

Students are concerned that closing the department will narrow the economics education at Notre Dame, Brellenthin said. They are also concerned that this decision sets a precedent that students will be excluded from future academic decisions.

“Very little attention has been focused on the 400 students who are economics majors,” Brellenthin said. “No efforts have been made to engage student opinion on the topic.”

Schmidt said he is an economics major, but he first heard about the plans to dissolve the department from The Observer.

“We weren’t told about it,” Schmidt said.

The dissolution of Economics and Policy Studies will be voted on at the next meeting of the Academic Council, Brellenthin, who is one of the four students who serve on the academic council, said. “We can make statements against the dissolution, and we certainly will, but it has been on the agenda to dissolve before we could put it on the agenda to discuss,” he said.

Brellenthin said faculty members are also concerned about the dissolution of the department.

“They are asking what will happen if professors who teach something that isn’t the mainstream theory are pushed out,” he said.

“The fear is that the academic council is just going to be a rubber stamp” on McGreevy’s decision to dissolve the department, Schmidt said.

One trustee expressed her surprise after Weber ranked the dissolution of the department as the second most critical issue for students, but the issue is about students’ wanting to be respected, according to Brellenthin.

Brellenthin cited reports that McGreevy described the dissolution of the department as “too sensitive an issue for debate.”

“We respect the administration and the professors as top-tier educators, but we want to be respected as top-tier students,” Brellenthin said.

Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life

After the debate about the choice of President Barack Obama as the 2009

Commencement speaker because of his pro-choice stance, “student government tried to take leadership,” Weber said.

Weber commended University President Fr. John Jenkins’ creation of the Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life last year, but said more students should be members of the task force.

“There is only one student on the task force,” she said.

The student on the task force is not officially responsible to any “University-recognized student leadership organizations” or to “existing and traditional student groups” that support pro-life causes, Weber said.

Weber commended the University for prioritizing the issue, but said it should become a larger priority.

“It’s a human rights issue that should become a part of all aspects of University culture,” Weber said.

Other issues addressed with BOT

u Students are concerned the Notre Dame Forum was not held during the 2009-2010 academic year, Schmidt said.

“It has become an annual event, and there are a multitude of issues that students want to talk about in a formal way,” he said.

u Student government is hopeful that the agenda.nd.edu calendar is redesigned by the beginning of the Fall 2010 semester, Brellenthin said. The initial date for redesigning the calendar was set for Jan. 29, but the calendar is still under construction.

“We are hopeful that that date stays on track,” Schmidt said.

u Schmidt said students want to be a part of the Commencement speaker selection process.

“Given the recent controversy, it’s a simple and realistic request to ask that there be a student representative in this decision,” he said.

He suggested the student body president and the senior class president as students who should be a part of the Commencement speaker selection process.

u Pep rallies should be more student-friendly, Schmidt said. This year, “students did not go to pep rallies,” he said. “Students will not go to Irish Green.”

He suggested moving pep rallies to Purcell Pavillion and increasing the involvement of Hall Presidents Council in planning the rallies.

The Irish Green pep rallies were “very commercialized,” Schmidt said. Students are looking for an environment that is “loud, where people are bouncing up and down,” he said.

Schmidt urged the members of the Board to consider student government’s positions during their meeting this week.

“We encouraged you to advocate for us if these are issues you are passionate about,” he said.