Friday, February 20, 2009

It's Debate Day! What's the most important issue facing GW students?

GW students want to know what SA can do for them!

Today's online debate will serve as an opportunity for candidates to tell you how they plan to evoke positive change at GW.

Therefore, we believe it would be appropriate to begin today's SA Liveblog debate with Valentina Montoya's question:
What is the most important issue facing GW students, and how will you work to fix it?
This is an invitation to all SA candidates and students to engage in a back and forth discussion. During this discussion, SA candidates will have the opportunity to tell GW students how their term will improve the GW community and what they will do to fix major problems.


Dan Keylin - CCAS Candidate said...

The most important issue facing GW students is that they aren't having their interests represented by the Student Association. I think the SA needs to represent the interests of the student body above all else.

Time after time, the SA has failed to advocate on behalf of students.

The SA should not let the University give our personal information to the RIAA, which is a PRIVATE organization. It’s preposterous to think the University is giving our personal data to RIAA when that organization’s only intent is to sue GW students for thousands of dollars. Where has the SA been on this issue? I think standing up to the university administration is real advocacy.

The SA needed to put pressure on President Knapp after Todd Belok’s dismissal from the ROTC. The silence from President Knapp was disappointing, and students deserve better. The SA can’t idly sit back while fellow students are continually discriminated against.

The student body needs an SA that actually does stand up for them and is willing to clash heads with President Knapp and the administration when needed. It’s the only way we can actually make sustainable progress.

Rob Shorette (GSEHD-G) said...

I am actually going to agree with Dan for the most part. After serving this year as a representative for the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, I have been able to observe the way our Student Association has handled business. Unfortunately, the culture of the SA right now stresses the importance of passing legislation when, in reality, truly advocating for our constituents does not always involve a piece of legislation.

To be honest, I have advocated for graduate students without many of the members of the Senate knowing about it. Meetings with President Knapp and other key administrators for the purpose of voicing the concerns of the students do not happen in a Senate meeting. I talked to administrators recently who said I was the first person to come talk to them in 10 years about an issue...?

While there are some issues with the culture of the Student Association, I want to encourage the students of GW to get more involved and take responsibility for their time here at GW. I don't think that sitting back and criticizing the SA's every move is the answer, especially when it is very easy to access your officers and express your concerns directly. I believe the Senate would be much more willing to work with the students directly, rather than being on the defensive after a critical Hatchet article is published.

We need some more passion in the Student Association, but the SA can only work with the support of the students. Hold your officers accountable and get directly involved. Speak to them! Until there is more cohesion between the student body and the Student Association, I believe it is our job to reach out to you all and begin to make those connections. All of the other important issues that need to be resolved will fall into place after a stronger advocacy role is taken by the SA and a stronger relationship is formed with the student body. Be mindful of people that post comments about being able to solve everyone's problems without at least acknowledging the fact that it will take the support of the students to truly affect change.

Kyle Boyer - Pres. Candidate said...

The most important issue facing GW is absolutely student leadership, and the degree to which student leaders involve EVERYONE in the process. When student leaders bring people together successes come automatically - Nicole Capp and Brand Kroeger showed us this.

I agree with Rob Shorette that the student body needs to assert itself. The idea that an SA President can have monthly meetings with President Knapp and articulate a vision that the rest of the student body doesn't care about is both not fair, and not appropriate.

The student body should know that some people like Rob - I hope myself included - worked hard this year. But individual work is not enough, we need a unified vision, and that requires a visionary leader.

Being very realistic, most candidates are discussing the same big issues give or take one or two that we personally feel passionate about: Dining, Advising, and Space. The question is not which candidates are going to work on those issues, but rather which candidates can actually demonstrate mature leadership to get them done.

Meetings with President Knapp and Dr. Chernak are not opportunities for the SA President to say what the administration wants them to say, its an opportunity to advocate for the issues students care about. The administration is willing to take action when asked, but when the SA President tells them that the entire student body cares first and foremost about funding for a float, that is not advocating for what students care about.

Louis Laverone (EVP Candidate) said...

I agree with Rob: the SA has a very insular culture and too often was there pressure to generate pieces of paper. Let me be clear - legislation is well and good, but it's only a starting point at best. Resolutions give members of the SA a mandate to talk to administrators, and give administrators cover when they take an idea to their superiors. Of course, all this assumes the stuff passed by the SA is any good, which is why we shouldn't force people to write and pass stuff for its own sake.

But that's a structural issue. Regarding tangible goals, I think the SA needs to focus on affordability. I think it's fantastic that the University has voted to increase financial aid, but there are still questions over whether the increase is enough, or if GW can give as much as it promises while the school's debt continues to grow.

At minimum, the SA should move to eliminate as many fees around campus as possible: printing, transcripts, course drops, and so on. More than that, we should look to Harvard and Georgetown and create a student-owned corporation to run some of the services currently handled by outside vendors, among other businesses. It would create on-campus jobs, give students management experience, and would be used to fund a scholarship program.

Erik Ashida said...

I’m a freshman senator who serves with Rob on the Academic Affairs committee, and I think his thoughtful post has basically nailed what needs to change in the culture of the Student Association.

However, I disagree with the candidates above who offer the lack of Student Association leadership as the most important issue facing the school. While there certainly needs to be discussion about what the Student Association should do differently next year, it’s important to remember that the internecine politics of the Student Association are merely a barrier to solving real issues like advising, dining, and the state of our campus libraries.

I think that putting too much emphasis on the need to change how the SA does business will ultimately lead to repeating the mistake of focusing too much on internal issues rather than external advocacy. If our leaders have clear, specific platforms, and have thought through how they are going to deliver when they are in office, then good politics will follow naturally. I’ve been very impressed with the ideas offered thus far – here are some thoughts of my own:

One of the issues that I have begun working on this year is the state of our campus libraries. Although it’s not widely known by the student body, the Gelman Library System is facing a financial shortfall of about 200,000 dollars because of a steep drop in the amount of money raised through the voluntary library gift. I’ve been working with the Executive Vice-President and Treasurer’s Office to close the gap in the library’s finances, and also convince the university to invest in specific improvements like an overhaul of Gelman’s antiquated electrical system and investment in study space for students.

Another enduring issue is academic advising. Last year, the Student Association and the CCAS administration came together to make recommendations to change CCAS advising. You can find an online copy of the recommendations here, (although the report is public, it’s posted on the Academic Affairs Google Group so I’m not sure if the link will work…)

However, the implementation of those recommendations is going to take time – particularly since many of the recommendations involve changes in faculty culture and payroll incentives that are generally beyond the reach of the Student Association.

Having said that, the Student Association needs to ensure that these recommendations are implemented in a timely manner. In addition, we can continue to work for important supplements to faculty advising, such as strengthened peer advising and a degree audit system.

Dining is also an important issue, and you can find my thoughts here in a separate thread.

- Erik Ashida

Candidate for CCAS Senator

Zahin Hasan (SEAS-U) said...

I feel the most important issue facing GW students is that they are not given enough opportunities to voice themselves to their SA. I'm sure many of the current SA senators and executives would be happy to argue with me on this, but as a Freshman, aside from reading GWBlogspot, The Colonialist, and the Hatchet from time to time, I have not once heard anything about the SA from the SA itself (aside from Logan Dobson's blog, which I only just started to read).

The officers are making progress, however, with the help of outside organizations. The SA recently hosted a Wacky Wednesday at the Mount Vernon Campus, asking everyone to come voice their opinions. However, MVCL always advertises Wacky Wednesday. I haven't heard much from the SA aside from this. You can say I'm not looking hard enough, but I can almost guarantee a good number of students aren't looking at all. It's up to the SA to catch their eyes.

That being said, the SA doesn't make itself look like the Student Organization with a bright, shiny golden cape. I was recently working on an event, as the Outreach Chair for the Muslim Students' Association, with the rest of the Exec. Board, and we had come across quite a dilemma regarding finances. If I hadn't known one of the Senators personally, the idea of talking to the SA for assistance would not have come to mind to any of us. This makes me wonder if other Student Orgs act the same way.

Now it's time for one last remark. I feel the candidates themselves are too focused on the downfalls of the Aswani administration. We can't have an SA that promises to do what Aswani didn't. In fact, next year's SA should focus on the future with the CURRENT situation, not previous situations. Sure, Vishal couldn't get GdubStudyHub off of its feet, but that doesn't mean the new SA should say, "Oh, Vishal didn't do it well. We'll do it better." No, there are other things at hand, and new issues will arise. Instead of bashing the previous administration, we should look forward to the new year with new goals, new ideas, and most importantly, a new hunger to make the SA an ACTUAL SA, with more student involvement.

George J. Brunner said...

Not having their voices heard, and feeling they are not part of the process. We need categorical transparency. In an effective organization, we need a leader that can inspire, that can be open and honest with us, and that can build and motivate a team. We also need a leader that can check their ego at the door.

Monica Sanchez - ESIA Senator Candidate said...

Many GW students have become all too complacent with running the course of their careers at GW as bystanders... that being said, many students have shown through their organizations and involvement that they want to be part of a greater GW community.

GW students deserve a college experience worth telling to their grand-kids. University life is an all encompassing experience unlike any other and should excel and strive to be the perfect balance of educational, professional, and social interactions.

I want to work towards providing GW students with this experience and make them proud of their university.

I agree with the other candidates posting, that the SA needs to be united, they need transparency, however a big part of this is taking action, and not being afraid to take action. Everyone needs to understand that mistakes will be made. Through trial and error we can find the right balance of SA power and student interaction and working purely for the students.

Chris Clark - Senate Candidate said...

Hey guys, hope everyone’s semesters are going well. One of the biggest issues facing GW students today is a lack of integrity and morality on the elected official’s part. Not to be cliché, we are a government for the people, elected by the people. We should be serving the student population’s best interests not the interests of certain high up officials. Having said this, the idea of transparency will help fix this. Allowing everyone to get involved allows the population to keep the candidates honest. The upcoming year will be one of the hardest in the last decade based on the financial crisis. Candidates who attack the crisis with diligence and integrity will be the candidates who lead us out of this recession. Repairing the finances of GW and electing moral, motivated candidates will be the biggest tasks of the student population over the next year.

Melissa Gindin for CCAS-U said...

Although I primarily agree with the bulk of what is stated above, I must disagree in part. This is not about government; the SA does not have the capacity or more importantly the authority to govern anyone other than the SA.
What we can do however, what we must do, is work together and stop the university from continually hammering us with these obscene and unnecessary fee’s. We must work together to present a united front and to find ways to do more with less. This can be done, it will be done.