SA Senate votes to expand freshman forgiveness policy in final meeting of term

Media Credit: Grace Hromin | Staff Photographer

Senators unanimously approved the SA's budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year after SA leaders met for hours to review student organizations' requests.

The Student Association Senate wrapped up its last meeting of the semester Monday, passing 14 pieces of legislation, more than any meeting this academic year.

Senators passed resolutions calling on officials to increase scholarship funds for SA executive members and requesting that newly elected senators create a transition committee that would cover the SA constitution. The senate also unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Faculty Senate to vote in favor of expanding the first-year forgiveness policy to apply to all undergraduate courses.

SA Sen. Louie Kahn, CCAS-U and the chair of the academic affairs committee, said expanding freshman forgiveness could improve retention rates, especially for those in the STEM field taking “rigorous” classes.

Freshmen are currently allowed to retake one course in which they received a D+ or lower, but the change would allow all undergraduates to retake up to three courses, the resolution states.

“There are freshmen that come already taking upper-level classes because of their success in APs, and then they mess up their first semester, but that shouldn’t mess up the rest of their college career,” Kahn said.

Senators also unanimously approved the SA’s budget – the amount of funds allocated to student organizations – for the 2020-21 fiscal year. SA Sen. George Glass, U-at-Large and the chair of the finance committee, said finance committee members and the leadership team – which assists the executive vice president with administrative tasks – met virtually for more than 50 hours to outline student organizations’ funding requests.

“On behalf of both committees, I firmly believe the budgeting enclosed in this report best meets the needs of our student organizations and provides a solid foundation for a vibrant University community driven by active and engaged student organizations,” he said.

Outgoing SA Executive Vice President Amy Martin said $120,000 from the remaining SA co-sponsorships funds – money granted to student organizations for mid-semester events – has been disbursed to the GW Cares fund, which is designed to assist students requesting emergency financial support as a result of COVID-19 impacts. Senators passed a resolution earlier this month calling for the co-sponsorship funds to be reallocated.

The senate also unanimously approved the Equal Pay Act, which urges officials to increase the scholarship provided to the executive vice president from $7,500 to meet the SA president’s scholarship of $15,000 and requests all chief of staff positions receive a $7,500 scholarship. Chief of staff positions currently receive no scholarship, according to the resolution.

Martin, a sponsor of the resolution, said outgoing Chief of Staff Nicole Cennamo documented 60 hours of SA work in one week and averaged roughly 40 hours per week to carry out her SA responsibilities – a schedule “not uncommon” for an SA executive leader. She said the scholarship would make the executive positions more accessible to students, like graduate students and students with full-time jobs.

“Financial accessibility impacts the ability for grad students to take on these kinds of positions, and these positions within the executive are full-time jobs,” Martin said. “A lot of graduate students have full-time jobs on top of their schooling, and that is essentially asking somebody to participate in a second full-time job and not get paid for it.”

Outgoing SA President SJ Matthews said the current amount SA leaders receive in scholarships is “appalling.” She said the University would not lose any money by expanding financial support to these leaders because tuition scholarships are deducted from tuition, not provided out-of-pocket.

“This money comes from the University and is treated almost like a coupon off your tuition,” Matthews said.”This is not a hard ask for them to make sure we are supporting all students and making sure the SA is truly accessible for anyone who’d like to be in it.”

The senate unanimously passed a resolution requesting that the newly elected senate creates a task force – including three graduate students – within the SA responsible for transitioning to the updated SA constitution. SA Sen. Brandon Hill, CCAS-U and executive vice president-elect, said he plans to create a committee in the coming months.

“I do have plans to have a committee for this set transition, but I did not even think about the makeup of the committee so it is cool to say it needs at least three graduate students, and this senate is recommending that so I support that,” Hill said.

The senate passed a resolution calling on officials to purchase virtual newspaper subscriptions to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, which would revive a past University program of dropping off newspapers to residence halls which halted in 2011. SA Sen. Catherine Morris, CCAS-U, said she held interviews over the past few months with publication officials from The Times and Wall Street Journal to provide subscriptions for students and faculty and staff.

The senate also unanimously appointed five new members to the Student Court – two undergraduate and three graduate students – the top five contenders from a pool of 33 applicants this year, SA leaders said.

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