By John Ochira, Student Senate President
When I ran for President, I had a few ideas about how I would change Student Senate to better represent and serve the UMF student body. So far, we have made some good progress on multiple fronts, but I have learned along the way that organizational change is not about individuals; it’s about team work and collaboration. This report highlights issues, events, projects and achievements of the UMF Student Senate.
The team dynamic in this year’s Student Senate is important because it explains part of our success as an organization. Thanks to all those who had cast their votes and helped us in picking the great group of Senators who sit in this year’s General Assembly. We took a more aggressive approach to publicizing the General Assembly elections this year, going hall to hall with the “Grill Your Senator” campaign and going classroom to classroom to inform and draw student into the election process. More than 25 candidates competed for the 19 General Assembly seats drawing nearly 400 voters—thanks to the committee that organized the election, members of this year’s Student Senate Executive Board, Vice President Michael Keim, Officer of Financial Affairs Jacob Taylor, Parliamentarian Natalie Dumont, Officer of Club Affairs Sebastien Dumont and Secretary Darrian Church. This group worked throughout the summer to prepare for the 2013-2014 Academic Year; their hard work is evident in the successes Student Senate has had so far.
Since the beginning of the 2013 Fall semester Student Senate has implemented a number of small changes which have, in our view, improved efficiency in the organization and benefited students and organizations alike.
We revised our Constitution for the first time since 2005, eliminating confusing language and instituting changes to reflect the needs and interests of today’s student body. For example we reduced the number of signatures required for a student to bring an initiative petition before Student Senate from 350 signatures to just 50 signatures. We feel that this is a more appropriate number of signatures, especially considering the decrease in student population.
Visibility and Accessibility:
While our office hours have not changed since last year, we have increased our visibility and accessibility to the student body. There used to be a lot of confusion about the role of officers, especially in regards to which officers can sign check requests, contract request forms and other financial documents. We have put a big poster outside the Senate office that contains a picture of each officer, a brief summary of the responsibilities of each of the executive positions and each officer’s contact information. It’s a really simple thing, but it has been effective in clearing out confusion. Our office has been well staffed throughout the week with senators who are eager to help and/or answer questions.
In previous years, the issue of communication has been a frustrating one to many clubs and organizations. This year, we have pushed for a dramatic change in this area. We are treating club emails with a greater sense of urgency and cutting down our response time as much as possible. Financial paperwork are getting signed faster because the Officer of Financial Affairs and the President visit the Administrative System’s Office more frequently over the course of the week. The resurrection of the President’s Council has also added a new channel of communication between club Presidents and Student Senate. We meet on a monthly basis to discuss issues, voice concerns and share ideas. In the November meeting, some great ideas were generated [such as x]. We also learned that a good number of clubs are doing very well with their fund-raising campaigns; a few have already fulfilled the Senate mandate that requires clubs to raise 10% of their annual budget.
Student Senate is currently working with the Campus Residence Council (CRC) to put on a winter themed event for students next semester. The planning has taken off wonderfully, and we will release more information on the event when it is finalized. We are excited for this parnership opportunity because we believe that in the long-term, collaborative leadership will enrich campus experience for all students.
In order to accommodate the need for on-site and off-site storage, we have purchased bins and shelving units for the Purington basement storage. Student Life has given Senate a key so that clubs and organizations may access the space more frequently and with greater convenience. Clubs will still have to make appointments with the Officer of Club Affairs, the Club Inventory Commissioner of the Club Sports Commissioner to access their stored items. There is also a shared office space in CR-122 where all the club offices are. That space is available for a more convenient and light weight storage. We have also inventoried the Dirigo Yearbook storage room and we hope to rearrange it to accommodate more clubs with storage needs.
Work in progress:
We are working to set up a legitimate website through which we can communicate with students as well as clubs and organizations. We currently have a web page which is functional, but it’s neither convenient nor effective in getting our message out to students as well as clubs and organizations. Concerning student rights, we are working on a number of issues, including the smoking policy which has recently been the subject of many conversations on this campus.
On the financial front we are beginning to organize the process for the Annual Budget Hearing. We would like to streamline the process and make it more accommodating to clubs and organizations. We are looking at holding pre-hearing workshops to give new club officers a chance to prepare for the budget hearing in a relaxed environment. Once we finalize dates and times information will go out to all clubs and organizations.
Good Progress so far:
This year’s group of Student Senators have been amazing to work with; I have and I continue to enjoy my time with this group. Without a doubt, we are a more involved bunch this year. My favorite part of Senate meeting is the Senator’s Report. This is usually the last item on our agenda, and it’s great because it gives Senators an opportunity to report on events they have witnessed or participated in as well as issues they have come across. This is a new item on our agenda and we feel that it has encouraged Senators to go out and investigate campus issues. I am very proud of all the Senators who have dedicated themselves to representing, serving, and advocating for the rights and interests of the UMF student body. This is not to say that we don’t have work to do, there is a lot of room for improvement. For example, last year Senate passed a motion to honor a former ARAMARK employee who died of stroke with a plaque. We identified a willing maker and agreed on the wording, size, color, design, but we failed to submit the final paperwork on time, leading to a massive delay in the process. We have apologized to ARAMARK and restarted the process with a new company. This is certainly one big black mark, but I am very pleased with the efforts that Senators have put forth in tackling other issues affecting our campus. On behalf of Student Senate I would like to thank all who have been active and have contributed, in one way or another, to the betterment of our campus.
Let’s move our campus forward, TOGETHER!
UMF Student Senate