Schmidt, Weber address campus conveniences
Joseph McMahon | Thursday, December 10, 2009
When former student body president Bob Reish and then-vice president Grant Schmidt took office, their administration marked a changing of the guard, as it was the first time in three years members of former student body president Dave Barron’s administration had not controlled student government’s top office.
In their campaign platform, Schmidt and Weber promised to continue many of the previous administration’s programs while also implementing several ideas of their own.
“We’ve taken a common sense approach, and we’ve addressed the issues that are of most concern to students,” Schmidt said.
Focusing on the little things
Since taking office, Schmidt and Weber have made it a top concern of theirs to enhance student living on campus by increasing the number of small conveniences available.
Schmidt said many students often have a difficult time conceptualizing what student government does.
“I really do think that we’ve addressed campus conveniences in a different way,” he said. “I’ve been in student government for four years, and sometimes people say, ‘Hey I have no idea what you do?'”
While discussions about the intellectual life on campus may be stimulating for some, Schmidt said a primary complaint of many students was student government focused myopically on large initiatives while ignoring easy to implement ideas.
“My roommates [usually] don’t care about what I do,” Schmidt said of his work in student government. “But there recently have been several things that we’ve done that are relevant to them.”
Among the small conveniences student government has achieved or planned this year are the lowering of prices in the Huddle, the renovation of the LaFortune arcade room, benches at main circle, mints in the dining hall and hot Grab ‘n Go options.
“We joke about mints in the dining hall and we joke about the benches at main circle,” Schmidt said.
Weber said although some of those initiatives may sound insignificant, implementing smaller ideas helps build credibility and has helped paved the way for larger plans.
“Focusing on little things is really important and something student government should do because those conveniences are really important, but it also gives your organization a bit of credibility,” she said. “If you’re doing the things that everyone cares about, it gives our organization the credibility to focus on things like the Global Water Initiative.”
The administration has also focused on responding to student complaints about large events. For example, Schmidt and Weber spearheaded the idea to move the Commencement ceremony into Notre Dame Stadium after hearing numerous complaints from students that they did not receive enough tickets for family and friends.
The idea of utilizing small programs to curb the average student’s apathy towards student government is something of a holdover from the Reish administration, which used ideas such as the installation of printers in every dorm, the DVD rental service or the Last Lecture series (which has not been continued this year under Schmidt) to get students more involved with and interested in student government.
Schmidt said while he enjoys working of big-picture issues, adding small conveniences to everyday student life has been the most “relevant” effect of his administration.
“The Global Water Initiative is a big thing that I think is one of the key things that we’ve done, but I think as a whole the ability to address the things that people actually care about so we’re not just up in our little student government office and patting each other on the back — that is the most relevant thing that we’ve done,” he said.
Coming into office last April, Schmidt and Weber immediately began working on their signature platform issue — off-campus transportation.
“Obviously this year we’ve highlighted off-campus living and off-campus safety because that was the thing that really rose to the top,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said students would routinely complain about unpleasant experiences in South Bend cabs.
“The main concerns we had were the rates fluctuating, them not having correct change, some being kind of creepy and the general behavior of drivers,” he said.
Schmidt said he attended meetings with the owners of several cab companies and many of the drivers that service Notre Dame themselves to help work out solutions. Among the many ideas the duo tried to push were pre-paid tickets for cabs and a $2 flat rate to prevent cab drivers from taking advantage of students.
However, after several meetings with cab drivers produced few results, Schmidt and Weber turned their attention to creating Transpo route 7A — a new service using South Bend’s Transpo system that runs late at night near many popular student destinations.
“Transpo was our huge transportation initiative and that’s what we put our time into. It solved the problems I was worried about with cabs,” Schmidt said. “It creates kind of the easy transportation solution.”
Weber said Transpo’s reliability — the fact that it runs on a schedule and is free for students — made it an easy solution to solve the seemingly complex problems with cabs.
“The idea with Transpo too is that it’s reliable,” she said. “So the idea with Transpo is that you know you have someone to rely on instead of hitchhiking or walking back.”
Schmidt said the new Transpo route will also help improve community relations by keeping loud, intoxicated students out of the streets late at night — a selling point he used to help convince local South Bend leaders at the Community/Campus Action Coalition (CCAC).
“In my opinion it is a community relations effort because if people are walking home late you can hear [them] talking in the streets,” he said. “It’s keeping people in a group, keeping people on a bus and avoiding student complaints about safety issues, avoiding intoxicated people possibly walking.”
Schmidt said his position as a member of CCAC was crucial in finding common ground with community leaders.
“If I wasn’t present at CCAC I think the Transpo thing would have been received in a completely different way by the city,” he said.
It is important to note that while Schimdt and Weber deserve a fair amount of credit for the project, the Office of Business Operations actually negotiated the contract and finalized the plans with Transpo.
In addition, Transpo route 7A is still very young — it was only first used this past weekend — and still in the testing phase. The project has a number of serious potential pitfalls, including destructive behavior on the bus or students being too loud while waiting at the stops, which could undermine the entire project.
Ultimately, the success of the Schmidt-Weber administration is tied to the success of Transpo route 7A, and if the project is denied funding next year by the South Bend City Council or shut down because of students’ behavior, the administration will have failed to address what Schmidt and Weber have identified as one of their signature issues.
‘The 10,000 foot level’
While campus conveniences and improving local late-night transportation have been focal points of this administration, Schmidt said he and Weber have also been focusing on large issues “at the 10,000 foot level.”
These issues include the Global Water Initiative, improving rector relationships, conducting a serious discussion on the intellectual life at Notre Dame and, most pressingly, off-campus safety and police relations.
“If there was one big issue that Cynthia and I have had to deal with it was off-campus safety,” he said.
Schmidt made his presentation to the Board of Trustees on off-campus relations and has met several times with local police.
“In the meetings that we’ve had with South Bound Police, we’ve said we would like safety addressed, we like the presence of [SBPD] and we know there are areas of the city that deserve the same amount of attention,” he said. “We want to make sure students aren’t targeted.”
Schmidt said it is difficult to ask for more cops to improve student safety in the wake of incidents such as the abduction of two Holy Cross students on Notre Dame Ave. earlier this semester while requesting more leniency for party-throwers.
“You can’t say you want more cops and then be worried about [parties being broken up],” he said.
However, Schmidt said while local police have been receptive to talks, he has been unable to meet with the Indiana State Police, whose excise force is most often responsible for breaking up parties with what many students consider excessive force.
“Excise can show up whenever they want, so in order to be political we can sit down and talk with SPBD, but … to be honest with you, I don’t know how much the student body president can tell the excise police. I wish I could say something like, ‘Slow your roll,'” he said. “There’s only so much I can do.”
Schmidt said some of his talks with law enforcement have been very productive, and cited statistics showing game-day arrests were down this year as proof.
– Off-campus transportation
– Continuing relations with the South Bend Common Council
– The development of an off-campus housing Web site
– Community summit
– Taxi reform (replaced by Transpo)
– Tax exemptions for text books
– Last Lecture series
Schmidt and Weber have proved themselves effective at providing students with small conveniences such as benches at Main Circle while also implementing big picture ideas such as the Global Water Initiative and the Transpo route 7A. However, they have not excelled at the programming side of student government – a side which former student body president Bob Reish stressed in his administration. Also, it is still too early to determine the success of the new Transpo route – this administration’s major project.