Despite inexperience, SA shows strong will
Despite a significant change in leadership that ousted many of its old guard and replaced them with a young and relatively inexperienced cadre of executives, Student Assembly has been characterized thus far by a strong commitment not only to continuing many of last year's programs but negotiating between students, administrators and faculty.
The Assembly expressed this goal from the outset, when Administration/Faculty Committee Chair Andy Edwards '04 pledged constant contact with administrators and faculty rather than merely going to them when something went wrong.
Yet several former Assembly members worried that this year's leadership -- which is mostly composed of sophomores and others with little prior Assembly leadership experience -- would not have the necessary clout needed to work effectively with administrators.
While the final outcome of programs currently underway remains to be seen, the Assembly's work this term suggests that its will to negotiate is strong -- even in a time when major decisions about the future state of the College can seem to be handed down from above.
After determining that students overwhelmingly support improvements to dormitory lounges, the Student Life Committee persuaded the Office of Residential Life to match the Assembly's $10,000 contribution to a dorm improvement fund, silencing critics who said that a pro-Greek Assembly administration would insist on prioritizing improvements to Greek houses.
The Assembly has not shied away from expressing student dissatisfaction with the recently installed door-locking system. In a general meeting with ORL Dean Martin Redman, the Assembly questioned all aspects of the door locks, including concerns about student privacy -- which they feared would be compromised by computer monitoring capabilities -- and off-term students' being denied access to the dorms.
This outspokenness has the potential to backfire, but so far it has been effective. At the meeting, Redman took the criticism in stride, soliciting suggestions about the easiest way to give leave-term students dormitory access and agreeing to continue negotiations through next term.
The Assembly, despite its lack of formal authority in budget-cut negotiations, has tried to act as a mediator between concerned students and administrators who are under pressure to cut costs.
Acutely sensing students' increasing concern over the cuts -- explicitly demonstrated in Monday night's midnight protest against eliminating varsity swimming -- the Assembly resolved to synthesize and report student opinion to Provost Barry Scherr at the beginning of Winter term.
A campus-wide email sent by Student Body President Janos Marton '04 and Vice President Julia Hildreth '05 expressed the Assembly's sympathy for the swim team, but, acknowledging the permanence of the cuts, sought to channel frustration into a more general communication.
The Assembly has arranged a community forum that will allow students to discuss the cuts with Scherr on Dec. 4.
The Student Organizations Committee prepared a detailed report on Dartmouth's environmental sustainability and received permission to institute a sustainability coordinator position. However, despite repeated avowals of commitment to sustainability by chair Sally Newman '05 and Marton, the cash-strapped administration has charged the Assembly with finding a way to fund the position.
Assembly programs carried over from last year include the
"Revelations Dinner," the Undergraduate Teaching Initiative -- which included presenting the Profiles in Excellence Teaching Award to chemistry Professor Russell Hughes -- and promoting co-programming between student organizations through the Inter-organizational Council.
It remains to be seen whether the Assembly's efforts to foster relationships with administrators will ultimately bring about change. That depends partly on a continuing emphasis on bridging the gap between the student body and College officials -- and partly on how seriously the administration will take the Assembly's insistence on getting student opinion incorporated into College decisions.