Too often, student government can devolve into self-promotion with little substantive achievement. But having voted in Student Activities Fee Endowment reform and launched a new, usable website last semester, the Georgetown University Student Association looks poised for a strong semester. If last Sunday’s meeting is any indication of the sessions to come, the Senate appears to be maintaining its momentum with a set of initiatives that will make important contributions to student life.
The first order of business is to put SAFE reform to bed in a meeting with the board of directors. Once they do so, Speaker Adam Mortillaro (COL ’12) also indicated that GUSA is moving to form a commission to consider ideas for how to spend the approximately $1.9 million that remains in the student activities fee endowment.
However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that it was a mistake for the Senate to disingenuously bundle the endowment with a raise in the student activities fee into a single referendum question. It was not necessary to raise the fee when reallocating money that previously went to the endowment functionally doubled the funds available to clubs.
That said, Senator Colton Malkerson (COL’ 13) deserves credit for his good-faith legislation to definitively cap the share of the student activities fee that GUSA may allocate to itself. This sort of bill is necessary to show that GUSA will not abuse its new, sweeping club funding powers. However, while GUSA’s budget only accounted for approximately 7.3 percent of the student activities fee allocation, the new measure offers a broad cap of 15 percent.
Also, the fee increase means that percentage comes from a larger total, offering GUSA a maximum allocation of around $130,000 versus a current budget of $27,000. This can be partially justified by the fact that a large sum of this money will go to a more generous GUSA Fund, but Malkerson should question whether GUSA would ever need up to five times its present allocation to end what he calls a “culture of austerity.”
Despite lingering reservations about SAFE reform, it will create a culture of action that paved the way for excellence legislation in the new term. For example, Senator Michael Barclay (COL ’12) has presented a resolution asking the Department of Public Safety to publish standard operating procedures that clarify student’s rights under the Code of Conduct. Although Georgetown’s status as a private university gives it a wide purview over the regulation of its campus, students have been pressured to give up rights beyond what even DPS can demand.
Educating students about their rights, coupled with the GUSA executive’s ongoing systematic review of the Student Code of Conduct, is an important endeavor. Recent illicit drug scandals and the rumblings of neighbors all put pressure on the University to crack down. It is heartening that GUSA is taking its responsibility to defend student’s rights seriously.
Finally, there is much to be said for the lower-profile measures that GUSA has taken to create to a more vibrant student life. Barclay’s new farmer’s market initiative, which will have its first test run in April, will deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to campus starting this fall. And anyone who eats at Leo’s will appreciate Stephanie Cohen’s (COL ’12) overtures to the Food Committee to allow students to sit upstairs on the weekends.
It’s not necessarily fashionable to praise student government, but, despite lingering concerns over its funding takeover, GUSA should be commended for a strong beginning to the semester. However, senators should not rest on their laurels or give into apathy or self-aggrandizement. Students gave them a renewed mandate with the SAFE reform vote, so it is up to them to come forward with a strong vision for improving student life and for protecting student’s rights. The readiness with which the University made concessions to our unfriendly neighbors and the sometimes questionable conduct of DPS and the Metropolitan Police Department officers show that the stakes are too high to do otherwise.
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