Thursday, December 28, 2006

News: New Face for Student Government

University Student Senate Reorganized

By Rob Hartmann

For the past two years, Lang student Brittney Charlton and Carey Sellin-Vetter, of The New School for Social Research, have been working on a common goal: developing an effective, university-wide student government.

The two, co-chairs of the fledgling university student senate, say this semester marked a significant turning point. The group redrafted its constitution and met with the university’s Board of Trustees, who Charlton said will give the University Student Senate official recognition by the close of the semester. Both Charlton and Sellin-Vetter are confident that the reorganization will improve student influence with administrators.

”As the university is becoming more centralized, so too is the student government,” said Charlton, explaining that students across New School’s divisions need a unified body in order to address issues at the university-wide level, such as the campus master-plan, housing and tuition increases. To make the most impact and create a succinct student voice, the USS will make a statement rather than all the individual student governments.

Sellin-Vetter added, “I think that without the USS, the centralization of the New School would have disastrous effects on the ability of the student body to have its concerns considered by the university.”

The biggest single change: In the past, USS membership consisted of two representatives from each of the university’s eight divisions, in addition to a four-person executive board. However, following advice from the Board of Trustees, the new USS constitution will stipulate that each division’s representation be proportional to its student body size. Thus, Charlton said, each division will be guaranteed one seat and then, depending on its size, will be allowed a number of extra seats to be decided.

University administrators say they, too, are pleased by the prospect of a revamped student government. “This is a tremendous opportunity for the students to have a voice in what happens here at the university,” said Roger Ward, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at the New School.

”What they’re doing is establishing and creating for themselves a presence on the campus that doesn’t exist now,” Ward added. “It changes the whole dynamic of how we work with students.”
Another important function of the senate, Ward added, will be to further communication of students across university divisions. “Our schools are so distinct, our campus is spread out across the West Village, there are not too many central spaces for students to meet,” he said. The senate “will provide an opportunity for students to get together on occasion to talk about things that are of concern to them regardless of school.”

Ward, along with Linda Reimer, Senior Vice President for Student Services, cooperated with Charlton and Sellin-Vetter in their efforts to rewrite the USS constitution. They also arranged for them to meet with Student Services Committee of the Board of Trustees. One result of those meetings: the USS will receive funding for one year via a special grant from Trustee Julien Studley. The funding will be spent on office space, programming and full ballot-voting booth type elections, Charlton said.

After finishing their draft of the new constitution, Charlton and Settin-Vetter will present it to the USS for ratification within the next few weeks, and then finalize their agreement with the Board of Trustees. Charlton said the current 18-member USS will reconvene next semester and hold elections, open to the entire student body, for its executive board.

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