Over my last three years in Senate, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the role the AAS has grown to play at Amherst. If you ask students on this campus about the Association of Amherst Students, most say the organization acts as the $500,000 piggy bank for student activities. Others claim that the student government does nothing at all. Many of us distrust Student Government, suggesting backhanded politics, inconsistent funding policies, etc. In response, we try to stay away from it, limiting interaction to the occasional request for money.
In the past, candidates have proposed lengthy platforms describing projects that the Senate will undertake. I do not have this kind of platform. Given the current role of the AAS, such promises are nearly impossible to achieve.
But I will promise to lay the groundwork for a reevaluation and restructuring of the AAS. I want to substantively change the actions of Student Government on this campus. I want to make the AAS useful again. I want to give students a voice on this campus again. Through clear, purposeful steps, we will create a new image of the AAS –one that is of and for the student body. Because it is only after the AAS changes the way it functions that students will look upon Student Government as a valuable resource.
WHAT I’VE DONE IN THE PAST
I have worked hard during my three years in the Student government to try to make the school a better place. In this pursuit, I have also served on various committees. I have an intricate knowledge of the AAS budgetary process, as I have served on the Budgetary Committee for two years. I have sat on the Trustee Advisory Committee for Student Life since my freshman year, and I have multiple contacts on the Board of Trustees. This means I can address larger issues directly to the Board.
Here’s are some highlights of my work in Student Government over the past three years:
• Freshman year –chaired freshman class of senators, worked with Board of Trustees to bring back Scrutiny Course Evaluation site, sat on Trustee Committee for Student Life
• Sophomore year –sat on BC, Trustee Committee for Student Life, Dining Service Committee, worked on appointments board
• Junior year –chaired ad-hoc committee to oversee successful distribution of The Reserves, brought The Speechwriters LLC to campus, sat on BC, Trustee Committee fro Student Life, Dining Service Committee
I. REDEFINING STUDENT GOVERNMENT’S ROLE ON THE AMHERST CAMPUS
Some senators have already attempted to enact Constitutional amendments that would redefine the student government’s role and image on campus. In 2005, Ranja Arja ’06 successfully passed legislation that now requires all senators to complete a project during the course of the year. Last Spring, I worked with a group of Senators, including Emily Silberstein ’06 and Avi Das ’07, and together we drafted an important Constitutional amendment that created an Appointments Board and opened up many important seats on faculty committees. I am proud to say that nine students from the student body at-large sit on these committees this year.
What needs to be done?
The AAS needs to undertake a concerted effort to engage individuals and student groups on campus. There was a time when the Student Government had the ability to gain seats on key committees, influence administrative decisions, and make sure the student body was heard. We can achieve this again. But it all starts with the Student Government making itself available to the students, realizing that it can be more than just a fiscal overseer, and finding creative paths to advocate for the student body.
As President, I will:
• Bring back the school-wide meetings that no President since my arrival at Amherst has called. At each meeting, I will give a short summary of work completed by the Senate, spark discussion on controversial campus issues, and then open up the floor for questions and comments.
• Form Ad-hoc committees, composed of both senators and members of the student body at-large, to address those concerns elicited from the student body. Ad-hoc committees should be evaluating such controversial issues as the role of the AAS reserves, spring concert, and health services on campus.
• Hold individual meetings with teams and student organizations to ensure that the Student Government is directly helping them achieve their goals. Intimate discussions with individual students and club leaders will allow the Student Government to better understand the problems facing students on this campus, and, in turn, permit the student body at-large to better understand the role of Student Government at Amherst.
• Request Senators from all classes to hold office hours and proactively set up meetings with various teams and groups on campus. These meetings will help senators better define their role in Student Government and hold them accountable for their decisions.
II. SIMPLIFYING THE BUDGETING SYSTEM
From my two years of experience on the Budgetary Committee, I have found the current system of allocating funds from the Student Activities Fund to be restrictive and inefficient. Currently, the semesterly allocation system dispenses nearly one-half of a semester’s Activities Fund months before the semester begins. This has resulted in an unfair allocation of funding between these groups in the past several years.
• This awkward timing favors clubs that can submit coherent budgets for an entire semester at a moment’s notice: club’s whose semesterly schedule varies minimally from year to year (often club sports and publications).
• In contrast, it hurts those clubs that wish to bring in interesting speakers and hold varying events from year to year (often activist and affinity groups), as these groups have less money in reserves when attempting to plan time-sensitive events.
As President, I will try to:
• Remove the semesterly allocation process in which clubs request budgets for all its activities months before the semester begins.
• Open access for budgetary requests at the mid-point of the previous semester. In this way, clubs and organizations will have the ability to get the desired financial support from the Senate when they need it, not just when it is convenient for the Student Government.
• Seek creative ways to maximize the Student Activities Fund. This past fall, I chaired a pivotal ad-hoc committee that decided how to allocate nearly $200,000 in the Student Government’s Reserves efficiently and equitably. I will continue to monitor this allocation process, and work with the Treasurer and a committee of students and Senators to maximize the distribution of funds without raising the per-student contribution.
III. EXAMINING STUDENT HEALTH AND WELL-BEING ON CAMPUS
Currently at the College, a physician is available only during working hours, Monday through Friday. During the weekends, students will medical ailments are forced to go to either UMASS’ urgent care center or to Cooley Dickinson Hospital, which is a 30-minute drive away. While Campus Police and ACEMS do offer rides to these facilities, students face a serious negative incentive when considering whether or not to seek urgent care.
As president, I will try to:
• Form an ad-hoc committee to evaluate health-services at Amherst. Such a committee would consist of representatives from Health Education, Residential Life, and ACEMS.
• Encourage the administration to consider adding office hours on the weekends and consider hiring a paramedic for Saturday nights. While ACEMS does a tremendous job –and I personally have helped them acquire additional supplies and pay for the training of additional staff members –I think it is unfair of the College to expect ACEMS to offer unaided urgent care to sick students.
• Advocate on behalf of the student body to increase the number of service providers at the school –both in the health and counseling centers.