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Student Government plans for eventful year

Jenn Metz | Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sitting in the Student Government office on the second floor of LaFortune, student body president Bob Reish held up a sheet of paper with a long list of ideas.

“Hopefully some of these will actually work, and I think the majority of them will, so we’re really excited,” he said.

Reish, along with student body vice president Grant Schmidt, explained some of those ideas to The Observer, detailing their agenda for the 2008-2009 academic year.

The pair, elected in the spring, have separated their responsibilities, each tackling individual projects that together will focus primarily in engaging the student body as a whole in student government and in the goings-on of the University, keeping in tune with one of their campaign platforms: bridging the gap.

“Our efforts are in gear to ensure that student opinions are not stifled … to make sure that the student voice is heard,” Schmidt said.

Their initiatives for this year include making a more politically-active campus, getting more freshmen involved in student government and improving community relations with South Bend.

Reish and Schmidt have been working with a number of groups on campus, they said, to set up a mock election, to take place tentatively in October.

“We want to make sure we at least provide a channel for Notre Dame students to be able to discuss what’s going on, to be able to debate, to be able to stand behind their own stance that they’ve developed, to be able to learn from other students,” Schmidt said.

The two stressed the importance of this year being an election year that will culminate in historic results, regardless of what ticket wins.

The University, through a letter signed by Reish and University president Father John Jenkins, will formally invite Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain to campus, a formality that has been in place since 1952, Reish said.

“This is on behalf of the entire University – This will be one big venue, Notre Dame as a whole,” he said.

“I think the clarification that we make,” Schmidt said, “is that it’s not a rally, it’s not a campaign event. We’re not being partisan in any way, we’re not being biased. We’re trying to inform the student body of [the candidates’] policies, of their stances, and of their beliefs.”

Possible topics of discussion during the candidates’ potential visit to campus might include issues particularly affecting the state of Indiana, college students or family values, Schmidt said.

“They will educate, as opposed to campaign,” he said.

Another Reish-Schmidt initiative is the student census, a student government survey to be conduced once a semester covering a variety of topics in relation to student life, including academics, athletics and social concerns, Reish said.

“So many times, I think student government does things because we think they’re good for the student body. We’re elected representatives and [these changes] will be a direct result of student voice. And I think that is what our overall dream would be,” Reish said.

The one area the census will not cover is the inner workings of student government itself, they said.

“As far as student government, we have a clear vision, but it’s kind of behind the scenes,” Reish said. “I don’t think students are necessarily going to see those changes, but I think it’s going to bring about an improvement for the student body in the future. We might not see the direct benefits.”

The pair said they will focus other efforts on improving student life, including working to initiate using Domer Dollars off campus, an issue explored last spring, as well as launching a free DVD rental system, predicted to begin sometime in September.

In order to increase the freshmen involvement in student government, Reish and Schmidt are introducing a new program: the Freshman Leadership Experience (FLEX).

“This is a whole new venue; it’s never been done before at Notre Dame,” Reish said.

The FLEX program will be separate from the freshmen class council, immersing between 25 and 30 students in student government, “essentially doubling the amount of people getting involved with student government,” he said.

“You’re only here four years. If you can plant the seed earlier, hopefully four years from now there’ll be more leaders around campus,” he said.

In order to connect with other student governments, Reish and Schmidt are working to establish a Midwest council, comprised of colleges and universities at a comparable academic level with Notre Dame, like Northwestern and the University of Chicago.

Other events to begin this year will include the Last Lecture series, something that received a huge response when the pair was running for election, Reish said. The series, which according to the pair was a Notre Dame program in 2002, will feature professors on campus giving what would be their “last lecture.” A book by the same name by Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Randy Pausch, who delivered his last lecture in September 2007, has become a national phenomenon.

The pair are working on what they call The Big Event – a campus-wide community service day.

Schmidt said he is concerned with increasing community relations. He said this year’s off-campus fair and Transpo tour of South Bend were successes.

“There are some opportunities in South Bend that some students don’t know about. It’s important when you go to a University to at least know you’re surrounding area, and people know about South Bend as much as the city would like,” he said.

Their efforts regarding this year’s forum on sustainable energy will materialize after the event on Sept. 24, they said.

Plans for a “What’s the deal?” question series are also in effect, which will explain some of the little-known but important facts about why things are the way they are at the University, Reish said.

Reish and Schmidt said they hope to make their office more student-friendly. “I think sometimes student government is seen as a stiff organization and we’re trying to make sure it’s welcoming in here,” Reish said. “We’re normal kids.”