Miranda moves SA on new path

by Rachel Osterman | 11/21/00 6:00am

As the Fall term draws to a close -- and with it Student Assembly President Jorge Miranda's first period in office -- Dartmouth's student government looks toward an active year in which the reenergized body will have to work hard to complete the unusually ambitious goals it has set for itself.

Miranda '01 was elected last spring with a notably large margin of victory, promising to institutionalize student voice at the College while presenting himself as "five foot, seven inches of fury" in his campaign.

Since then, the Assembly may or may not have adopted a posture of fury, depending on whom you ask, but it has certainly moved into previously uncharted areas.

While furious in its resolve to change the perception of the sometimes ridiculed body and to give students more say in the College's decision-making process, the Assembly's strategy has nonetheless been anything but antagonistic.

Under Miranda's leadership -- and perhaps with the help of his skill for winning instant friendships -- the Assembly has cultivated close relationships with key administrators, while simultaneously pushing the administration to listen harder to student concerns.

Miranda meets with and blitzes administrators on a regular basis, mingles with them at formal gatherings, thanks them when he feels credit is due and voices concern when he determines it appropriate -- as when the College introduced its new cable package without making mention of the Assembly's behind-the-scenes work.

Above all, Miranda has dedicated his first term to laying the groundwork for what he hopes will be an activist body that at the same time attends to the more traditional focus on student services.

"Our Fall term has been unusually active," he said in a recent interview. "But Winter term will be a good term to see what will and won't happen."

The fruits of the Assembly's revitalized efforts remain as yet uncertain. Miranda was particularly ambitious when he released his personal report, "The State of Student Involvement," earlier this month, which requested increased student voice in College affairs. But the extent to which the administration will take heed remains unknown for now.

Some of the Assembly's bolder moves of the term may lead to few tangible results. An October resolution on the College's fees and fines system, for example, broadly called for the administration to make good on its pledge to revamp how financial penalties are levied. But Dean of the College James Larimore afterwards told The Dartmouth that the release of a new policy was far from imminent.

Perhaps the Assembly's most daring move of the term came when it passed a resolution that objects to the composition and intent of a high level search committee for new education department faculty.

By calling into question an historically masked process, the Assembly caused considerable noise within administrative ranks.

But even when Miranda waded into tepid water by spearheading the education department resolution, he was careful not to demand more than he thought he could accomplish. When an amendment calling for a voting student on the search committee was proposed at that week's Assembly meeting, Miranda cautioned against the idea, arguing that it went against College policy and would therefore make the Assembly come across as combative and ignorant.

Officially, the proposed amendment was never even brought to the floor.

In his "State of Student Involvement Report" -- an unprecedented effort to bring common concerns to the attention of administrators without having to go through procedural ratification channels -- Miranda similarly took conciliatory steps. He went out of his way to credit individual College officials and to also acknowledge ways in which students at Dartmouth already have a say in decision-making.

By inviting administrators from the Office of Residential Life and the Library Administration to open meetings about such matters as the ban on personal fireplaces and gathering student feedback on the Baker-Berry project, the Assembly was adopting a noticeably collaborative approach.

Of course, not all of the Assembly's work this term has departed from previous policy. The Assembly continues to give considerable focus to College committees -- though to a larger extent now since the beginning of the implementation phase of the Trustee Initiative. And not much has changed in the way of student services.

Within the Student Assembly itself, Miranda has also sought to make changes. Among his greatest emphases has been giving all members ownership over their own projects, and he meets with all new members individually over lunch to discuss their visions for the Assembly.

In the Assembly's Robinson Hall office, Miranda has written "The New Student Assembly" on a whiteboard, under which various organizational goals are outlined. The emphasis there, he said, was to highlight the changing nature of the Assembly.

Miranda has also worked to raise Assembly members' awareness about the history of the body, not only to give them an historical perspective on their work but also to avoid repeating past mistakes, he said.

"It's partially being an old senior and being the only one who remembers things," he said, adding: "It's important to know where the organization has been so that we know where to go in the future."

Miranda is neither nave nor pessimistic in assessing the likely success of his tenure in office.

"I don't think that when I graduate, the College will be perfect. But I want it to be moving in a positive direction," he said.

And despite the enormous workload that comes with the Assembly presidency (Miranda says he spends more time on Assembly projects than he does socializing or on his academics), he nonetheless seems to be enjoying the job significantly.

"I think it's harder than I thought it would be," he said. "I guess the main thing I enjoy is the people. In the end, it's 50 people who care so much about Dartmouth that they want to make it better."

When asked if he had encountered any disappointments during his first term, Miranda paused and, after a few moments, said he hadn't experienced any. He later changed his answer when recalling the frustration the Assembly felt after not receiving credit for the installation of cable in dorms, but added:

"It's only Fall term, and if I had any major disappointments now it wouldn't be good. I feel like we're starting off well."