Opinion | Op-eds

Connecting Senate and students

David Froomkin and Jared Odessky, both CC ’15, are running to represent Columbia College in the University Senate. Below, Odessky outlines his campaign platform and reasons for running. Read Froomkin's submission here. Voting is open Monday through Wednesday.

On Friday, the University Senate met for its monthly plenary, prepared to cast a final vote on campus smoking policy after well over a year of debate. Failing to meet quorum, the senate was unable to vote on the resolution and was forced to kick the can farther down the road.

Friday’s meeting is indicative of two problems that have been plaguing the senate for some time: The legislative process is slow and encumbered, and the issues that dominate the senate’s sphere do not address the main concerns of undergraduates on campus. The first problem is a more complicated fix and is largely due to the senate’s composition of faculty, administrators, and researchers, in addition to a minority of students. The second problem stems from priorities in need of change. As senator, I would be uniquely qualified to navigate the senate’s structure, using my knowledge of University operations and strong connection to undergraduate issues to best advocate for Columbia College students. 

For the past two years, I have served on the Columbia College Student Council, first as the class of 2015 president and now as the vice president for communications. In these roles, I have had the opportunity to develop relationships with administrators from offices across campus and to work with other students to effect change. A strong network of communication is essential for senate policy work. Since plenary sessions are held only once a month, effective policy-making happens behind the scenes and relies on personal interactions. In addition to one-on-one meetings, the committee system is where the senate conducts most of its operations in a small-group format used to work out policies in specific areas of interest. Bomb-throwing does not work in a system that relies on coalition-building and cooperation, especially when students are in the minority. The unique structure and access of the senate provides an unparalleled opportunity to work toward solutions, but it also means challenging administrative bodies without isolating them.  

Using the committee system and the direct access of the senate to offices such as Columbia University Information Technology, the libraries, and monthly meetings with Dean Valentini, I will work to make the senate responsive to undergraduate students. Year after year, the senate’s agenda is dominated by the same priorities, and little attention is devoted to the real issues undergraduates care about. For instance, this year, when CCSC took up the cause to Save the Arts Initiative, the senate remained largely silent. As senator, I would use my partnership with CCSC to bridge the divide between undergraduate bodies and the University. Transparency is also key, and I hope to work with the senate to bring its website up to speed, increase its use of social media platforms, and engage in more on-the-ground outreach with constituents. 

My policy priorities for next year include institutionalizing a space discussion, working with CUIT to develop useful technology for students, looking into the pricing policies of Public Safety, and opening up study areas on campus. I will also push for a review of Columbia’s fellowship preparation programs and work to ensure that the Columbia Global Centers are accessible to undergraduates. While I have put forth an expansive platform, my priority list will also be open to a changing undergraduate body. As vice president for communications, I launched What To Fix Columbia, a crowdsourcing website that aggregates and ranks student concerns. WTF Columbia has already been instrumental in working toward small-scale reforms in areas such as mail services and dining and has helped generate administrative interest in finding a solution for the unrepaired bricks of Pupin Plaza. However, many of the campus-wide issues on WTF Columbia fall under the purview of senate policy. In solving such issues, the senate can be a strategic partner of the councils instead of operating independently. 

If elected, I would dedicate the next two years to making the senate actually responsive to Columbia’s undergraduate voice. I can only do it with your support.

The author is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in history. He is the current vice president for communications of Columbia College Student Council.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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