By Radhika Viswanathan
Published: February 15th, 2017
For many, it may seem that the semester has just begun. But the CLAS Student Government, President Michelle Anderson, and the Brooklyn College administration are setting their sights to the future. Yesterday, Student Government members hosted a Town Hall event where they discussed their plan for a new constitution. They were followed by Anderson, who presented a summary of her listening tour from last semester and discussed budgetary concerns and facilities management, among other issues.
The Student Government portion of the event covered important changes to its structure, which will be officially enforced with a new constitution at the end of this year. One of these changes is the merging of the CLAS (daytime) and SGS (nighttime) student governments into an Undergraduate Student Government (USG), which reflects the Brooklyn College administration’s decision to eliminate the distinction between the two groups of students. “The goal is to have one student body organization for all undergraduate students as opposed to the distinction that we currently have,” said Speaker Carolina Guarella. “The only distinction would be between full-time and part-time students.”
This change results in important implications, specifically regarding the budget. Currently, CLAS students and SGS students pay different student activity fees, because both groups of students are not eligible for the same services. This difference would have to be reevaluated once the distinction between daytime and nighttime students is removed.
Another major change in the structure of student government will be integrating the executive and legislative branches into one Policy Branch. “We find that the branches collaborate more often than they don’t,” said Guarella regarding decision to merge the two groups, “and [having two separate branches] provides for complications, and unnecessary bureaucratic steps.”
Under the new constitution, the Policy Branch will be composed of the USG president, vice president, and directors of various committees. In addition, a Judicial Branch, consisting of five students, will be created to provide a system of checks and balances. The purpose of this branch will be to review new legislation, host elections, receive complaints, and overall, provide accountability.
The final major change to the student government will be the elimination of the party system—an issue that has long been discussed by the student government. “Historically, these parties served as a way to categorize people,” Guarella said. “We felt that they no longer served a place here.” Now, student government candidates will all be running as independent candidates, rather than under a party.
In order to implement these changes, the new constitution must be voted as a referendum during elections at the end of the semester. “CLAS was created through a referendum. If you want to dismantle that, you need to do that with another ref.,” Guarella said. And in order to pass a referendum, ten percent of the student body must vote in favor of it. This number may prove to be an issue for passing the constitution, considering that voter turnout at Brooklyn College tends to be low and previous referenda have not achieved the required ten percent.
By the time Guarella had finished presented the new constitution, the Bedford Lounge was filled with about 50 students munching on donuts and coffee. Around 1:30, Anderson walked into the room—complete with her entourage of photographers, staff members, and one person to ensure that she was able to leave quickly and on time, whom a student in the audience dubbed as “the deflector.”
Anderson began by describing the various things she learned about Brooklyn College during her listening tour: namely, its identity, challenges, culture, and future. She synthesized the responses from students, faculty, staff, and alumni into a comprehensive presentation.
“We are a place that is inclusive and welcoming, and we are a place where some students feel excluded and feel targeted,” Anderson noted. With a nod to the national political environment, she continued, “The current geopolitical issues of the time affects Brooklyn College because we are a community that engages with these geopolitical issues. This is a rebellious and feisty spirit we have here.”
To address issues of exclusion and “elevate the discourse” surrounding controversial political issues on campus, Anderson described the efforts surrounding the “We Stand Against Hate” initiative, a series of events to promote compassion and conversation on campus. She explained her views on Brooklyn College’s role, both as an institution of education and as an important fixture in New York City. “On the outside, we look like an Ivy League university, but unlike Ivy League universities, we serve the community in which we sit. We are the community. We are Brooklyn.”
Along with conveying an aura of hope and positivity, Anderson also touched on major campus issues, the most important challenge being the budget. “There are not enough resources for everything that we want to do,” she said. Over the past two years, the budget has been cut five percent. “I have cut back on the hiring of tenure-track faculty as a result of budget cuts and tried to supplement with lecturers and adjunct faculty.” Now rather than replacing full-time professors when they retire or leave Brooklyn College, the expectation is to find ways to fill that position without hiring new faculty.
One of the results of decreased funding is the breakdown of facilities on campus, an issue of which students are all too aware. “This disrepair communicates disrespect to [students]… And that leads to decreased morale,” Anderson said. “And I hear that loudly.”
Currently, Governor Cuomo has proposed a budget to increase funding for maintenance across CUNY, and Anderson assured the students that the Brooklyn College administration would be lobbying for this budget to be passed in Albany.
Another issue that Anderson found had emerged from her listening tour was the relationships between staff, faculty members, administration, and students. “We’ve got a problem with inadequate communication on this campus,” she said. “Responding to the concerns that emerge on the campus. I don’t think that you get enough communication from the administration. I heard from students that there’s not enough communication from faculty.”
Anderson emphasized the importance of open conversation between these groups of people with regards to strengthening the campus community. And when she mentioned “the Brooklyn College runaround”—the phenomenon that students are often shipped from one administrative member to the next without getting a straight answer to a problem—she smiled as she noted, “I’m getting some nods.”
The CLAS student government hopes to hold more events such as yesterday’s—especially events through which President Anderson speaks directly to students. “Anderson is incredibly responsive, which allows is to have events like this,” said Guarella. “She makes it possible because of her willingness to engage with students. She doesn’t know it, but I love her!”
Most students echoed this sentiment—although not quite using those same words. “Anderson is welcoming and approachable, and that’s what makes her an effective president,” said CLAS assembly member Deep Kumar. “I think if more students came to this, they would get a clearer understanding of the important changes that BC as a whole is trying to make.”
Students walked away from the event with a better understanding of the issues plaguing Brooklyn College, whether they be budgetary or bureaucratic. While these issues will be resolved neither quickly nor easily, the CLAS Student Government and President Anderson’s administration have made a clear effort to ensure that students are at least aware of them. For now, it seems that the theme of the current administration is a word that was repeated several times throughout yesterday’s event: transparency.