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Initiatives rearrange student government

Megan Doyle | Thursday, December 8, 2011

The outside of the student government office on the second floor of the LaFortune Student Center looks the same as always.

But adjustments inside that office have changed student government’s appearance from the inside in dramatic ways this semester.

Student body president Pat McCormick has led several projects throughout his administration so far that changed the structure of student government. The changes were McCormick’s attempt to better address the problems that matter both day-t

o-day and on a larger scale.

“I’m very proud of the record that our team had put together, and it has been the team, around trying to advance these issues simultaneously, both issues of convenience and issues of consequence,” McCormick said.

‘Issues of convenience’

McCormick attempted to connect to the day-to-day lives of students specifically through the creation of the Department of Constituent Services in April.

“What we wanted to try and do was to create a committee whose sole job it was going to be driven by the voices of students whenever they spoke,” McCormick said. “I think architecturally that was a critical move.”

Director Heather Eaton said the new department serves primarily as a gathering place for student opinions.

“Constituent services is really meant to make sure that what we’re doing are the things students want, and we want to make sure students know that they can always talk to us and voice their concerns or what they would like brought up,” she said.

Eaton stepped into her role as the department’s chair with some uncertainty.

“Because it was a new role … at first, I’m not sure everyone had a clear idea of exactly the purpose I was going to serve,” Eaton said. “That was probably what took the longest time, figuring out how I fit in and what I was exactly responsible for, but now that I’ve gotten there, the Constituent Services committee has been a great help to all the other committees in helping them plan for their year.”

Eaton said students can submit their complaints about day-to-day life at Notre Dame to her group.

“I know I have a lot of complaints, and I go through the list, and I’m like, ‘Amen! That bothers me too,'” Eaton said. “You kind of think about it, but when the moment that’s inconvenient passes, you forget about it.”

Constituent Services collected over 900 responses to a December survey. Eaton said this feedback allows the group to act on the student body’s ideas.

“We asked what people wanted to see sold at the Huddle, and our department actually started working on that,” Eaton said.

The survey resulted in discussions with the Huddle staff, Eaton said, and students will soon see 24-packs of water bottles and more visible price tags on the shelves.

Eaton also organized Hall Council visits from the student body president, vice president and chief-of-staff.

“It was just an opportunity for them to meet students and become more of a familiar face so people feel comfortable getting in contact with them,” she said.

While the department has been successful collecting student feedback and addressing small concerns, Eaton said cutting through red tape in the administration could still be a problem.

“I’m not sure necessarily that we have had a big impact on administration and making changes that allowed for us to do differently that other student government administrations,” she said.

‘Issues of consequence’

The most dramatic change for student government organization this semester occurred in the semester’s 11th hour. Student Senate passed a 13-page resolution during its last meeting of the semester that resulted in a merger between the Council of Representatives (COR) and Senate.

The Department of Internal Affairs led the fusion between the groups and wrote the constitutional reforms that made their fusion official. Department members Ben Noe and Paige Becker pushed the changes forward through the process.

“We realized more and more, perhaps the role of the Council of Representatives was created to fill was not being fulfilled, possibly even couldn’t be fulfilled the way it was currently set up,” Becker said.

Becker said some people struggled to admit COR could be obsolete or inefficient.

“There were occasionally places where we would run into the perspective that this is the way it’s always been,” she said.

With the new resolution, Senate morphed into a new body that McCormick said better represents the student body. However, the new Senate is currently untested and next semester will reveal how effective the change is for the group.

As the office plans more organizations, Noe said he hopes everyone will continue to cooperate.

“I think the majority in general is in favor of change, but I think there is also going to be going a small but vocal minority opposing some changes, just in general,” Noe said. “I know there are some people that are not entirely satisfied with the changes made here, and I would hope that those people don’t use that bitterness or that irritation with this change to hurt future changes that could help student government.”