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Senators engage in dialogue, produce results

Joseph McMahon | Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Student Senate has engaged in productive debate and worked with the student body president, vice president and executive assistant to pass a number of resolutions this year.

Chief executive assistant Karen Koski, who has four years of student government experience, said student body president Bob Reish and vice president Grant Schmidt have listened carefully to the suggestions made by the 28 Senators and 10 Senate committee chairs.

“I know [in the last administration] within the committees their approach was more of, gather your research, present a resolution to Senate, and then have a discussion at Senate and pass it at senate, and then approach the relevant administrative bodies about it,” Koski said. ” … As opposed to going to them with the idea first and then working to develop a resolution, which I feel like has been a little bit more of what’s going on this year.”

This year’s Senate helped establish the student survey, which was planned by Senate Oversight Committee chair Sarah Rodts.

The survey helped provide instrumental feedback, and Reish said he would use the results from the survey going forward to help guide Senate discussions.

The senators have passed resolutions focusing on what students need most, and many of their ideas have fallen in line with Reish and Schmidt’s campaign promises.

For example, Alumni Hall senator Zach Reuvers and Senate Residential Life Committee chair Joy Hwang received unanimous support for their resolution calling for intramural sports registration forms to be put online. The move helped Reish and Schmidt fulfill their campaign promise to have all intramural registration online, pending approval by the Office of Information Technology (OIT).

The Senate also passed an important amendment proposed by Senate Oversight Committee chair Ian Secviar, which allows Notre Dame’s student political organizations to receive funding to support their candidates. Previously, group members would have to use either non-University funding or their own money to attend campaign rallies or even print T-shirts in support of any specific candidate.

The Senate has also produced tangible results concerning placing printers in every dorm and aided in the push to place Course and Instructor Feedback (CIF) forms online to help create an Enhanced Class Search. Stanford Senator and Senate Academic Affairs Committee chair Ryan Brellenthin has aided the latter of these initiatives, and he is currently working with Campus Technology to help create an online syllabus database – a project requested by nearly 95 percent of the student body, according to the recent student survey.

The Senate Technology Committee and its chair Devin Fee has worked to get printers in every dorm and established a working relationship between student government and the Office of Information Technology. Fee’s work, with the support of the Senate, helped aid the University’s switch from Webmail to Gmail and even helped secure financing from AT&T and Verizon to improve cell phone reception on campus.

The Senate has also engaged important discussions concerning the hiring of female and multicultural faculty by the University. When University President Fr. John Jenkins asked Reish and Schmidt to obtain student feedback on the issue, Schmidt said he decided Senate would be the best forum.

While the Senate did not pass a concrete resolution on the matter, they did have a number of suggestions for Reish and Schmidt to give to Jenkins. For example, O’Neill senator Kevin Kimberly suggested focusing on recruiting diverse faculty, while Walsh senator Julie Zorb said retaining diverse faculty is more important.

However, the senate has also passed two counter-productive resolutions. On April 16, the group passed a resolution proposed by Secviar, which defined the president of The Shirt Project as an enumerated position within the Student Constitution. This posed a challenge when Matt Barloh, who also serves as president of Knott Hall, was named the head of The Shirt Project.

Barloh, who led his dorm to Hall of the Year honors last year, was forced to resign his presidency because the clause was not amended. Knott Hall Senator Greg Salter said Barloh’s resignation was a major loss for his dorm and he shouldn’t have been forced to choose between two positions that had no overlapping priorities.

Another resolution proposed by Senate Social Concerns Committee chair Michelle Byrne called for allowing students to make charitable donations to clubs using their Domer Dollars. However, to facilitate this, student government must first purchase an ID card swiper, which could cost around $3,500, although a swiper may be purchased from Food Services at a slight discount.

But the student government’s survey showed little enthusiasm for the project, so the resolution could provide little return at a high cost.

The Senate has also occasionally wasted valuable time discussing things they have no control over. One major example is the regulation of taxi service on campus.

It was only after discussing the issue in Senate and meeting with Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) director Phil Johnson that Senate Community Relations chair Gus Gari realized “any change must come first from the administration.” The issue, which was focal point for Gari’s committee, has since been dropped.