Student Assembly structure varies slightly from peers

by Katie Rafter | 11/11/15 8:03pm

11.12.15.news_.SA_ZoeWang
Student Assembly president Frank Cunningham '16 emphasizes inclusion despite the Assembly's having only two elected members.
Source: Zoe Wang/The Dartmouth

This article is a part of our new culminating beat experience initiative, in which our beat reporters write longer-term investigative articles within their areas of expertise. The author is our Student Assembly beat reporter.

Though Student Assembly elections occurred in the spring term, the organization has seen turnover in its leadership this fall with the appointment of a new vice president — which raised questions about the Assembly’s election and application process.

Assembly president Frank Cunningham ’16 said the positions of president and vice president are the only two elected positions within the Assembly — elected Class Council members are not participants in Student Assembly. The president and vice president work with the rest of the Assembly to appoint the remainder of the positions within committees through an application process, he said.

This year, Student Assembly received 134 applicants and appointed 59 members. The Assembly also used this applicant pool to fill its executive board, though many of the current members rolled over from last year. Most positions are filled through the applicationprocess, which is blind.

Many Dartmouth student organizations as varied as Dartmouth Ski Patrol and admissions office tour guides require interviews before accepting new members. Student Assembly, however, does not.

Cunningham said he considered adding an interview component to the application process, but said that the fast-paced quarter system made interviews difficult to fit into students’ busy schedules.

Cunningham said that while considering potential applicants he speaks to students, professors and faculty to solicit feedback.

“The fact that we have an application process and we’re reading them blind speaks a lot to what we’re looking for,” Assembly vice president Dari Seo ’16 said.

Assembly spokesperson Justin Maffett ’16 said that every committee chair takes an active role in selecting a number of positions within their committee and the students that will fill these.

Cunningham said that because the Assembly’s constitution does not dictate the number of people within the committees, this can be decided on a term by term basis, depending on the Assembly’s agenda for the year.

This term, the health and wellness committee had more posts than some other committees because the mental health campaign “Stop Hiding, Start Talking” resulted in greater responsibility, Cunningham said.

Students are accepted to specific positions within the Assembly, not to the Assembly in general, Cunningham said.

Assembly chief of staff Nick Harrington ’17 said Student Assembly stressed diverse perspectives when selecting members.

“We have a role to make sure that any work we’re doing as the student body government is representative of the student body,” Harrington said.

Assembly members said they also reach out to people on campus who they believe would be suitable for certain positions to encourage them to apply.

“There are certain students on this campus that earn a reputation for being leaders in their own organizations or being outspoken on a certain issues,” Harrington said.

Harrington said they take the applications seriously, but also try to be aware of students who might serve a positive role on the Assembly who have not reached out on their own, because they might not have thought about it.

“If I have someone in mind that I know is capable of doing the job well, I will reach out to them,” Cunningham said.

This year, after Julia Dressel ’17 resigned from her post as vice-president, Cunningham nominated Seo for the post. Seo and Cunningham were previously members of AD, and Seo had appeared in a video promoting Cunningham’s candidacy. The current executive board contains several other members of Cunningham’s former fraternity, including health and wellness co-chair Speight Carr ’16.

Cunningham said, however, that the Assembly does not reach out to friends when looking to fill posts, because he does not believe that nominating friends would best serve campus.

“I want people on this board that can commit to a cause, and the experience that each of them have outside AD legitimizes their roles,” Cunningham said of Carr and Seo.

Cunningham pointed to Carr’s work with the Assembly on mental health in the last year and Seo’s personal experiences as well as his popularity and reach on campus.

“It is way more than their Greek house,” Cunningham said. “It is their dedication to Dartmouth.”

Seo also emphasized the importance of transcending social divisions within the student body.

“Student Assembly is one of the very few [organizations] at Dartmouth that is not framed into one specific umbrella of campus, but we truly want to make it representative of what Dartmouth stands for,” Seo said of the Assembly’s aim to unite various sectors of campus.

The Assembly reaches out to potential applicants because it lends the process some flexibility, Maffett said.

“It’s more that [Cunningham] can select and appoint a handful of people, and then those people are empowered to reach out and approve applications,” Maffett said.

The Assembly’s organizational structure largely mirrors that of peer institutions’ student governments, though it differs in the proportion of elected and appointed members, the application process, the guidance provided by the Assembly’s constitution and the organization’s source of funding.

President of the Princeton University’s Undergraduate Student Government Ella Cheng, a senior, said elected positions include the president, vice president and several committee chairs. The president appoints the remainder of the positions.

At Princeton, like at the College, “Every president has the option to create as many appointed positions or erase as many as they’d like, so that changes every year,” Cheng said.

Beyond these appointed positions, Cheng said that all candidates for membership must interview before the Senate votes to confirm that person — the Student Government requires a majority vote to nominate a member.

Middlebury College Student Government Association chief of staff Michael Brady said the president and vice president are elected, as well as two senators for each class. The president appoints a cabinet of about 15 heads of committees, ratified by the Senate. Middlebury’s Student Government Association does not have a formal process for applying to the Senate, but this year they sent out applications to try to be as transparent as possible, Brady said.

Unlike Middlebury’s Student Government Association, which is tasked with distributing funding to student organizations, the College’s Assembly does not furnish its own budget.

Instead, it is allotted funds through the Undergraduate Finance Committee. The Assembly is given a lump sum of $44,000 at the beginning of the fall term, UFC chair Carolyn Parrish ’16 said.

Since the Assembly is given these funds without restriction, students do not have complete oversight over how the sum is spent. In fall 2014, when Cunningham was serving as Assembly vice president, the Assembly was sanctioned by the UFC for spending funds on personalized Patagonia jackets for its executive board and other expenses.

She said that the budget proposals occur too swiftly after the new president is elected, which means the Assembly does not have enough time generate an accurate idea of the next year.

“In the past we’ve seen these really inspiring, but large, proposals from Student Assembly because people come into their administration and aren’t really aware of how money should be spent,” she said.

In the winter term, the Assembly will put together a comprehensive budget about how they plan to spend the remainder of their money, which Parrish believes will lead them to think critically about the rest of their time in office.

Other institutions contacted also receive funding through their schools’ student finance bodies. Yale’s government, however, recently received a direct endowed donation.

In previous years, the Assembly posted the amount of money allocated to specific initiatives, such as $200 to fund a study break or $484 for a laptop charger rental program. In addition, the proposals listed the names of the sponsoring Assembly members.

This section of the Assembly’s website has not been updated since 2010, and there is no comprehensive breakdown of the Assembly’s budget available on its website or accessible to the public.

The Assembly is in the process of updating its website, which Cunningham said he hopes will be ready by winter term 2016. The updated website will include information on the Assembly’s expenditures and a list of its current leadership, neither of which are currently publicly listed.

In addition to Cunningham, Seo, Harrington, Maffett and Carr, the current executive board is made up of Abbey Anderson ’18, Anna Sherman-Weiss ’16, Becca Nova ’16, Benjamin Vihstadt ’16, Blair Duncan Jr. ’17, Evan Read ’16, Garrison Roe ’18, Grace Mermel ’16, Hannah Saris ’16, Isabel Odom ’18, Jalisa Clark ’16, Noah Manning ’17, Parker Richards ’18, Spencer Furey ’17, Sydney Walter ’18 and Yoon Kim ’16.

Richards is a member of The Dartmouth staff.

Though the Assembly constitution does not lay out specific job descriptions for roles, Cunningham said he ensures that “every decision that I make is in line with our constitution.”

He said that the constitution had not been ratified for four to five years prior to last year, when he served as vice president alongside former Assembly president Casey Dennis ’15 and ratified the constitution.

He said that they do not have plans to rewrite this version yet, though the Assembly has considered editing certain ambiguous sections to add more clarification.

Harrington said Cunningham often checks to make sure that decisions they are making during committee meetings are constitutional.

At Yale, Sweedler said the College Council’s constitution was rewritten two years ago. Members can propose amendments at any time, and a majority vote is required for any changes to be made.

She said there are clearly delineated roles for positions on the council, and if new positions are created, they add these to the constitution.

At Middlebury, Brady said that the Student Government Association’s constitution was completely redrafted last year, but its bylaws are rewritten more often.