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Olachi Oleru / Senior Staff Photographer

Sarah Steinmann, BC/JTS '13 and SGA's VP for student activities, is one of the student leaders orchestrating the government overhaul, which splits SGA's responsibilities into two bodies.

Barnard is reshuffling its student government.

The Student Government Association will no longer serve as a governing board for clubs—a role that will now be taken up by an independent board called the Governing Board at Barnard, which will begin operating next fall. Meanwhile, the McIntosh Activities Council, which helps organize college traditions, will become an elected body and take on a higher-profile role. 

The SGA representative council announced the changes, which represent a fundamental rethinking of how the bodies interact, at its meeting Thursday night.

The University's four undergraduate student governments act as liaisons between administrators and students and work closely on crafting policy. While Columbia has separate governing boards that manage and support campus clubs, SGA is a government and a governing board at the same time—the only undergraduate student government group to do so.

Sarah Steinmann, BC/JTS '13 and vice president for student activities, said that her position on SGA is too demanding for one person to handle. She currently has to split her time between managing clubs and working with the executive council on policy and administrative decisions.

“In the other organizations across the street, they have an entire organization dedicated for clubs to get the resources they want. I'm one person, and I'm overseeing 80 groups,” Steinmann said.

At the representative council meeting, Steinmann also explained how student leaders will elevate McAC's role from the status of club to that of equal partner with SGA and the new GBB.

In the past, SGA and McAC have co-organized Barnard traditions such as Founder's Day and Midnight Breakfast. But moving forward, McAC will run those events independent of SGA.

Zoe Schein, BC '13 and McAC president, said that previously, McAC and SGA's relationship “hasn't been the best.” Steinmann characterized it as “rocky.” But both Schein and Steinmann are enthusiastic about the new partnership.

“We were lucky enough that both executive boards really wanted to create a stronger partnership this year,” Schein said in an interview. “Our move to a new office is a symbol of that. Our support of each other's initiatives has gotten stronger.”

This month, SGA announced its new office location in 101 Diana, the Anna Quindlen Conference Room adjacent to Liz's Place Café. In the future, it will be shared with McAC and GBB.

“Part of the reason that we moved down here was to create unity among those three groups and to make SGA more accountable and accessible to the student body, not stuck in a corner on the third floor,” Steinmann said. She added that the new office will give McAC “the space they deserve instead of the storage closet upstairs” that has previously been McAC's only office space.

Plans to formulate a separate governing board started last year. Over the summer, Steinmann and several SGA representatives met to outline the early plans for its structure.

“We can actually have somebody helping clubs reserve space. We can actually help groups get performance space. We have a new infrastructure to assist students with that aspect of programming,” Steinmann said.

However, SGA representatives and students at the meeting Thursday had major concerns about fundamental changes in budgeting, space reservation, and roster restrictions for groups that are currently dually recognized by a Columbia governing board and SGA.

Steinmann explained that dually recognized clubs will retain their dual recognition among the governing boards, but she acknowledged that problems will emerge regarding club funds being split between two governing boards, having two sets of club advisers, and a myriad of other procedures that are different at Barnard and Columbia.

“Everything that's difficult about programming at either place is doubly difficult now,” Steinmann said. “There's going to be a million dominos that fall. We are conscious of that.”

Varsity Show producer Ally Engelberg, BC '15 and a representative from the Columbia University Performing Arts League, asked Steinmann how the emergent problems for dually recognized clubs will be handled.

“We need to come together to solve those issues, but we need new structure at Barnard before we could attack those issues. Having one person doing it all is just not feasible,” Steinmann said in response.

Engelberg said that she is glad Steinmann realized that “this is a big bite to take, and I think that's something new that's come on. Recognizing that this is a really big project and that there will be unforeseen issues is okay.” 

“It's important to keep the lines of communication open among groups that are involved,” she added.

Because of the creation of GBB, the Activities Board at Columbia has changed its policy and will for the first time allow Barnard students to sit on the ABC executive board, beginning with elections for 2014-2015. There will also no longer be a limit on the number of Barnard students who may be in a group recognized by ABC.

Previously, a club that was solely recognized by ABC had a requisite percentage of students from the three Columbia undergraduate schools. Now Barnard students are included in this club quota system as well, allowing them to take on leadership positions in those groups.

“It hasn't been monitored in the past, but now it's written,” Steinmann said.

ABC clubs that are not dually recognized by GBB will now be able to reserve space on Barnard's campus for the first time, a point about which several representatives raised concerns.

Debora Robertson, BC '13 and SGA representative for campus policy, was one of the representatives who asked why SGA pays a fee to the Columbia governing boards to allow Barnard clubs to reserve space on Columbia's campus when there is no fee for Columbia clubs to reserve space at Barnard.

JungHee Hyun, BC '13 and SGA president, said that this issue will be addressed and most likely changed.

Engelberg questioned why an ABC-recognized club would be attracted to ask for recognition from GBB now that ABC can offer clubs the same resources and even reserve space at Barnard.

Steinmann said that the missions of the governing boards are inherently different—that GBB promotes programming at Barnard and strengthening the Barnard community, and clubs that resonate with the mission statement would be most attracted to GBB.

The details of GBB and changes to SGA and McAC will be described in an email sent to Barnard and Columbia students on Monday.

“We were doing more than we could do, so we backed up and are working step by step. It's not a sprint,” Steinmann said.  |  @EmmaAudreyGoss

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