A bit more bureaucracy may actually increase transparency in Columbia College Student Council, policy committee members say.
The CCSC policy committee, led by Ryan Cho, CC ’13, is hoping to make more students aware of its work by restructuring the committee and assigning a point person for each recommended policy change. That staff of “student specialists” will help make sure issues don’t fall through the cracks, and ensure that interested students know exactly who can help them throughout the process, Cho said.
The staff will consist of Cho himself, along with the two Student Services representatives, Christina Fan, CC ’13, and Karishma Habbu, CC ’13, and the Student Affairs representative, Bruno Mendes, CC ’14. Since those representatives regularly sit in on meetings with administrators who oversee health services, dining, housing, facilities, and academic issues, they can serve as middlemen for students and help them talk to the appropriate administrators.
“Last year if two people wanted to work on a policy, they could work on it themselves,” Cho said. “I’m trying to keep more accountability and communication within the committee by making sure we have one of the staff people to be directly connected to each and every policy.”
The policy committee is looking to follow up on getting swipe access for students from Barnard, General Studies, and General Studies-Jewish Theological Seminary into dorms occupied by Columbia College and School of Engineering and Applied Science students, as well as exploring policies to improve students’ experiences with the financial aid office and with Counseling and Psychological Services.
Cho says that the newly restructured committee will help CCSC better communicate with those who bring up the issues—those for whom these issues lie closest to their hearts.
“There are other people who want to be a part of council, that aren’t elected, that have a vested interest in policy. Those are the people we want to be a part of the process as it goes along, so that they buy in, so that they feel like they’re a part of that policy.”
Karishma Habbu, now a Student Services rep on the CCSC policy committee, served as the VP of Communications on last year’s executive board, giving her some additional perspective on how policy changes go from suggestion to implementation. She and Cho both said that better follow-through is perhaps the most necessary change in the way councils enact policy.
Looking back on the policies of last year’s council, Habbu remarked, “After we had passed the first few resolutions, we were like, ‘Oh we have to make sure this actually happens now.’ So for us it was a learning process.”
“The problem was, a lot of people got chopped off,” Cho said, referring to people who brought issues to the council in the first place. “So there would either be the VP policy or someone on the exec board following up on that, but what about the people that worked on that? Now my effort is going to be to do my best to make sure that those people are also in the follow-up stage.”
Connected to follow-through is getting the results of those new policies publicized to students. Policy committee meetings are open to the public, and members encourage students to come and find a way to get involved. But few students who are not in elected positions attend the meetings, and many don’t have much knowledge on what the councils are working on.
When asked what she wanted from the policymakers on CCSC this year, Priom Ahmed, CC ‘14, said she wasn’t sure.
“I feel like they have been a really vague force in my life and I’m not really sure what they do besides like give us free ice cream,” Ahmed said.
Engineering Student Council faces similar hurdles, and like CCSC is putting together a new website with a policy section. In addition, ESC hopes to reach out to students through their weekly lunch hours.
However, when the ESC president forgot to post the time of the event, “Nobody came last week,” said Logan Donovan, SEAS ’13 and ESC’s VP of Policy.
Gina Ciancone, CC ’14, thinks that transparency could be achieved through better self-promotion efforts by the councils.
“I think that CCSC does an incredible amount for this campus in terms of benefiting the student body and listening to their concerns,” she said. “However, they should take credit for what they do and publicize that. That way students know that their efforts to enact policy are effective, and not pass things and have them succeed without taking recognition. Otherwise they won’t get props.”