Task forces, fees focus of SA executives' tenure

by Kaya Yurieff and Sarah Ferris

Student Association President John Richardson addresses the SA Senate at its final meeting last week. Richardson thanked the body's senators for their advocacy work throughout the year.
Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Student Association President John Richardson addresses the SA Senate at its final meeting last week. Richardson thanked the body's senators for their advocacy work throughout the year.

The two top Student Association leaders spent the year injecting themselves into University conversations about cost of attendance and career services, passing over many of their early messaging goals and touting few tangible achievements in their term.

Student Association President John Richardson pledged in August to “break the insulation” between students and the SA, but he shifted his efforts late in the fall when he realized the need to identify concrete goals before focusing on messaging. By November he had turned his attention to fees and career services, emerging as the student voice in campus administrators’ conversations about these top concerns.

“I can tell [students] what I’m doing, but it’s more important that I know what students want, and focus on getting that done,” Richardson said, adding that he used G-Voice and town halls as his main way of soliciting student concerns to shape his agenda. “If you improve your communications and things like that, what’s the point if you don’t have things to communicate?”

The 30-student team of communication ambassadors for his proposed outreach office and the calendar site, called Involvio, were not put to use. Though G-Voice – an online discussion forum launched in October – has collected digital votes on two-dozen ideas, including more bike racks on campus and equipping food trucks with GWorld machines, few suggestions from the site have seen further action.

Late in the fall, the executive team took on smaller-scale issues, such as redrafting alcohol policies for graduate student groups, increasing lighting for evening sporting events on the Mount Vernon Campus, renewing commitments to newspaper delivery and bringing in speakers for a monthly University-wide debate series.

Though the SA executives took steps toward each target – funding a temporary New York Times subscription, meeting with graduate groups about alcohol policies and hosting four debates, mostly with faculty, for the speaker series – there are no official changes in place for next year.

Richardson said his contributions to conversations like the Career Services Task Force and the Marvin Center fifth floor – where he served as a top lobbyist for expanding student organization space – cannot always be boiled down to a single achievement, because no University decision is made by a single person and “everything is done in committee.”

This semester, the pair ramped up efforts to increase transparency on student fees – an initiative that saw a slow start, but garnered a campus-wide buy-in from administrators.

Student Association Executive Vice President Ted Costigan and Richardson say their efforts have saved students a quarter-million dollars from the elimination of fees, including printing and counseling, but could not provide data to validate this claim.

The duo also claimed the elimination of University Counseling Center fees as an SA victory, which they said collectively saved students $150,000 per year. The much-maligned fee was eliminated in early September, part of a University-wide spotlight about mental health that arose after a student suicide last April.

Mark Levine, interim director of UCC, said the executive pair “represented the student voice very well through the entire research, decision making and implementation process of our ‘up to 6-free session’ pilot this academic year.”

In February, Costigan negotiated a two-cent drop to reach a printing cost of 7 cents per page at Gelman and Eckles libraries, which he touted as a victory that would save all students about $40,000 a year.

“We have had unprecedented achievement in lowering the cost of attendance to GW students,” Costigan said.

The SA president said his biggest achievement was firing up the University’s efforts on career services. He said he got involved when administrators were still mulling a potential overhaul, and repeated his call for change to University President Steven Knapp and the Board of Trustees.

“By prioritizing this, we got something that will positively affect all students," Richardson said. “This year has been about building the model, looking at how we want to do it, and making sure it actually happens.”

The University announced in February that it would fund about a dozen new positions to steer the new career center model rollout over the next three years – funding that Richardson said his lobbying and work in committees helped secure.

Executive Director of University Initiatives Robert Snyder said the executive team helped the Dean of Students Office outline and spread the word about changes for the career services model.

“[Dean of Students] Peter Konwerski and I remain grateful to John and Ted for working side-by-side with us and our colleagues at every step in the process, from designing and refining the enhancements, to facilitating multiple opportunities for students to learn about the enhancements and offer input, and, finally, to advocating with us for the essential funding that is now making the enhancements a reality,” Snyder said.

The University began mulling an overhaul to the Career Center in fall 2010.

Reflecting on the SA organization as a whole, Richardson said he thinks it would function better if its two priorities were advocacy and allocations – not the senate’s resolutions. He has criticized the body throughout the year for failing to take on lobbying projects and bring forward bills about issues that affect the students they are representing.

“Do we really need a senate? I think it’s integral to have representatives for all the different schools, but if they’re not going to do anything, then who cares?” Richardson said.

This year’s SA Senate, which had its final meeting last week, saw no advancement on issues that came up during last year’s campaign, including Gelman, 4-Ride and academic advising.

Chase Hardin, a freshman SA senator, said structural problems and lack of interaction within the organization prevented Richardson and Costigan from achieving more this year.

“There is a huge lack of communication within the SA committees and branches. The SA as a whole is rather dysfunctional,” Hardin, ESIA-U, said.

The Student Association Senate passed a total of five non-binding resolutions this year that called for University action on a student issue. Other than amending bylaws and passing annual allocation bills, the senate supported a Greek life merchandise fair, vending machines in Gelman, University funding for the Marvin Center and condom dispensers in residence halls.

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