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Student Government stalls

Matt Bramanti | Friday, January 30, 2004

After months of work, the restructuring of student government is far from over. It began after former student body president Pat Hallahan’s October report to the Board of Trustees. In that report, Hallahan’s administration proposed changing the mission and composition of the Campus Life Council to promote the views of students on university policy decisions.But the trustees’ reception of the idea was less than warm. Last May, the trustees recommended that student government leaders restructure the student union to create more efficiency. One board member said he was “a little disappointed” that student government was asking for CLC changes before putting its own house in order.Last semester, the Executive Cabinet reformed itself into the Council of Representatives, reflecting the addition of student senators, and a broader representation of student government constituencies. The new council began examining the entire constitution, looking for areas that could benefit from consolidation and greater efficiencies.However, the process was difficult at first. Many council members asked where existing organizations would fit within the new system. And so the slowdown began. Student Union Board manager Charlie Ebersol insisted student government be totally reinvented. “We need to look at this as starting from scratch,” Ebersol said during a November council meeting.In November, a structure began to emerge. The plan was to create two major sides of student government: programming and policy. The programming side would devote itself to coordinating on-campus events, both at the campus and dorm levels. In the past, there have been scheduling conflicts and other problems that led to ineffective programming efforts. According to student leaders, the proposed Campus Programming Council would bring together dorm representatives to decide on events, which would apparently improve publicity efforts, reduce scheduling problems and increase event quality.Last semester, council members pledged to have a structure set by the beginning of 2004, with only the details to flesh out. Leaders began holding working sessions every Sunday. The goal was to hammer out the details in these informal sessions, then bring the measures to council meetings for rapid closure. So the question remains: what’s taking so long?Student body president Jeremy Lao, who assumed the office when Hallahan graduated early, said the process is slow by its nature. “It needs to be done right,” he said. “The devil’s in the details.”He certainly is. Some of these “details” are important, like where off-campus representatives would be represented in the new scheme. But others, while time-consuming, aren’t quite so compelling. In order to give student leaders enough time to evaluate new proposals, the council enacted a rule last semester requiring three days’ notice before debating. The measure appeared to slow the progress of the council’s work – just as greater speed was needed.Lao denied undue delays, saying the council has found a “happy medium” between speed and quality, and saying the group is on pace to meet its self-imposed March 31 deadline.However, the slow progress has raised certain implications for the election student leaders. On Monday, judicial board president Elliot Poindexter announced four tickets would be running for the positions of student body president and vice president. The tickets differ on the issues and on their approaches to the race, but they all have one unfortunate element in common: none of them know exactly what their potential jobs will be.Lao downplayed the significance of these problems, saying there is still plenty of time.”We have until March to make students aware of what these new positions will be,” Lao insisted, but he admitted that leaders would have to adapt to a very different system, which is still in flux. “Transition, no matter what, is not going to be easy,” he said. “People will just have to adjust in the end.”The problem is multiplied on the residence hall level. Under the proposed structure, each dorm would elect three key officials: a president, a campus programmer and a policy representative. However, several halls have already elected their hall presidents under the old system, and it is unclear whether those elections would have to be held again.What is clear, however, is that during the process of rewriting the constitution, the council of representatives has not been working on specific student issues.Lao said those matters have been turned over to other bodies in student government.”We still have the student senate and the office of the president to work on issues,” he said. “Nothing has shut down for this. We still have the policy and issue bodies working.”Though notably absent from the list of presidential candidates, Lao and his vice president, Emily Chin, said the difficulties this year made no impact on their decision not to run for re-election. “Running would just take too much time away from writing a good constitution,” Lao said.