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Council of Representatives: Members struggle to fully advise Shappell

Kathleen McDonnell | Monday, December 11, 2006

As the only body that includes leaders of both the policy and programming sides of student government, the Council of Representatives (COR) can be a very valuable tool for the student administration.

However, until members bring more issues to fill out COR’s lean agenda, it will fail to live up to its potential as an effective – and not merely efficient – sounding board.

COR is the “venue for leaders of the various student organizations to meet and advise the student body president on all matters concerning the Student Union as a whole,” according to the Constitution of the Under-graduate Student Body. In short, it is the closest Notre Dame’s student government comes to a presidential cabinet.

COR also approves a variety of measures, including nominations for appointed offices, the Student Union Budget and any budget changes, including the annual reallocation each January.

This body is unique in its breadth. Unlike groups with a more singular focus, COR gives a wide range of student leaders the ability to provide input regarding all aspects of student life. Voting members of COR include the student body vice president, four class presidents, four senators, one Hall Presidents Council (HPC) co-chair, the Student Union Board (SUB) manager, the Club Coordination Council (CCC) president, the Student Union treasurer, the Judicial Council president and the off-campus president.

In an attempt to take advantage of this variety of backgrounds, Shappell instituted a weekly “organization spotlight” at the Oct. 31 meeting of COR. This, according to Shappell, allows each group’s representative to COR to explain more fully the purpose and current goals of his or her organization.

“I think this spotlight will increase participation, because when COR members are more informed about what others do on a weekly basis, it will help them ask more poignant questions,” she said.

With only three organizations spotlighted so far, it is difficult to assess this initiative, but hopefully it will prompt leaders to bring forth more issues to the council’s agenda.

While COR has efficiently processed nominations and approved and monitored the budget without major controversy, it has all but failed in its duty to advise the student body president. Efficiency does signify strength in governing, and the meetings progress very quickly, but the potential for Shappell to gain information about all aspects of student life has not been tapped.

With four meetings cancelled due to lack of new business this fall, COR members need to do a better job of bringing forth issues in order to fulfill the council’s role as a sounding board for the student body president.

Shappell feels differently, however. She said she is “pleased with the level of participation” this year.

“COR is one of those bodies that really covers the topic of the day,” Shappell said. “As much as I may have somewhat of an agenda, it’s one of those things that we have to be flexible and see what comes up.”

Last year’s COR meetings focused mainly on the inauguration of University President Father John Jenkins, the summer 2005 amendment to South Bend’s disorderly house ordinance and the academic freedom discussion – all of which were extremely important and, in some cases, very controversial topics.

This year’s lack of weighty issues, Shappell said, is not a problem for COR.

“I’m happy we get to focus on things like student participation in elections – the day-to-day affairs, because those are important too,” she said.

Judicial Council president Liz Kozlow recently laid out her plan to increase voter participation in the upcoming elections, and Shappell said she anticipates more discussion on this topic next semester. However, other members of COR have yet to present ideas to on this subject.

As for other “day-to-day affairs,” COR meetings have focused more on student leaders presenting information about their individual groups, rather than using the body to discuss an issue with a unique variety of student leaders. And for COR to effectively help the administration, this needs to change.

Sophomore class president Lulu Meraz’s concerns about embedded racism and hopes to create a more inclusive Notre Dame family set the agenda for the Sept. 5 meeting, which was the most productive and lively discussion of the year. COR members should be praised for openly voicing their concerns and responses on such a delicate issue, and for coming up with fresh ideas that involve a range of student groups in the solution.

Shappell’s goal of addressing community relations was initially accomplished when several COR members visited the South Bend Common Council and South Bend Police Department, then reported the results to the rest of the group. However, the promised follow-up visit from the SBPD to further inform student leaders and prompt discussion has yet to occur. Next semester the body will have an opportunity to move the issue forward.

COR has proved its ability to be an efficient body, but only when student leaders bring more issues to the table and feel more comfortable furthering discussion can it live up to its potential as a strong contributor to the Shappell-Andrichik administration.