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Group’s response to student body’s complaints slow

Liz Harter and Ashley Charnley | Thursday, December 11, 2008

When the Belles of Saint Mary’s rang, or rather, complained, the Board of Governance (BOG) answered, albeit slowly.

BOG’s 26 student commissioners form the College’s main student policymaking board, which comes together each Wednesday night to grant club co-sponsorships, organize campus activities and address the needs of students.

This year, BOG’s main goal was to make students aware of the Board’s existence on campus, said chief of staff Lauren Theiss.

“This is the main goal for this year because, in the past, students have been unaware of the happenings of BOG and we want the women of Saint Mary’s to be well informed,” Theiss said.

Theiss said BOG has tried to let students know that their meetings are open to any student who wants to attend. This semester they met at 9 p.m. every Wednesday in the Warner Conference room on the second floor of the Student Center. Next semester, however, the day and time will change.

BOG also placed a bulletin board in the main hallway on the first floor of LeMans Hall. They placed a blank sheet of paper on the board and provided markers for students to voice their opinions on what they want BOG to address this year.

“We encourage students to share their ideas and concerns about the campus and what BOG can do to help [on the bulletin board],” Theiss said.

Although the idea of seeking student input in this way is admirable, the follow-through on these ideas is not always there.

The comments written on the bulletin board – which ranged from asking for the back door of LeMans to stay open as long as the library, to extending the Student Center’s hours to complaining about the potential stipend which the BOG Executive Board tried to allot themselves in the Student Government Association (SGA) budget – were only addressed at one BOG meeting and were never specifically read aloud to the Board.

Some of the comments on the bulletin board referred to the SGA budget, which originally included a $20,000 stipend for the BOG’s Executive Board. Many students opposed the idea and didn’t hesitate to make their opinion known by writing on the bulletin board and even attending BOG meetings. When the issue was discussed and voted upon at meetings during October, 25 members of the student body attended to voice their opinions in opposition to the stipend and stand behind those members of BOG who continuously voted to not approve the budget while the stipend remained a part of it.

Even with the student opposition and lack of BOG support, it took three weeks and a poll of the student body for the stipend to be removed.

This extended amount of time was largely due to the diversity of the group of women who make up BOG. This diversity creates divisions within the group and slows down decision-making processes, Theiss said.

“One of the biggest challenges we have faced this year is the cohesiveness of our board,” she said. “We are all strong and independent women, but we all need to work on listening to others and being open to other members’ ideas and opinions.”

The diversity also leads to personal opinions and emotions making their way into issues where they do not belong.

When the SGA budget was finally passed, Patrick Daniel, the director of Student Involvement and BOG advisor, addressed this issue by reminding the Board that, while he was “appreciative of how much people were very passionate about” the issue, he was “disappointed that it became very personal.”

These differences of opinion are not all negative though. The range of ideas on the Board do seem to represent the student body of Saint Mary’s. Although the budget issues did take almost a month to settle, the ultimate desire of the student body was carried out.

“To overcome this challenge we have had Commissioners report to the whole board about what they are doing on our campus,” Theiss said.

However, in years past commissioners have been required to give similar reports, and although they do help to keep the board informed, they do not address the larger problem that faces the Board when they are voting on issues that affect the entire student body. This really has no impact.

The group has not given up on increasing student involvement, and is planning several events for the spring.

“In the upcoming semester we hope to have more student involvement at our events,” Theiss said. Heritage Week will be held in January as well many other events throughout the spring such as SMCTostal and many others.