The race is on. Twelve candidates are running to fill the Columbia College, School of Engineering and Applied Science, and School of General Studies University Senate seats this election. Candidates are focusing on issues that include improving the effectiveness of the quality of life survey, pushing for greater transparency, and expanding financial aid.
Jacob Johnson, CC ’17
Johnson wants to change the way senate surveys like the quality of life survey are conducted so that they comprise a series of shorter surveys instead of a single long survey.
“We need to let our representatives speak through surveys,” Johnson said. “We need to really represent the issue of all the students.”
“If the students are asking for something different than the status quo, if they’re not affirming the status quo ... then the senate must vote on that, if there’s a strong response,” he added.
Johnson, who ran for senate during the fall special election, also thinks that the senate should end debates on the smoking ban and implement the current plan.
“The debate has gone on for a ridiculous amount of time and has sort of been pointless,” he said.
Daniel Liss, CC ’16
Liss, the current Columbia College Student Council alumni affairs representative, wants to speed up the release of data from the quality of life survey and transfer responsibility for analyzing the data from senate members to a University office.
“I think it was an important issue that the senators have worked on. It also sucked a lot of the oxygen over the past couple of years,” he said.
Liss also wants to create a way to let students access course syllabi and grading curve data during registration—earlier this month, he launched gradesatcu.com, a website that compiles student-reported grading data. He said that releasing syllabi would help students plan for the costs of textbooks when selecting courses.
Another aspect of Liss’s platform involves increasing the number of Columbia-specific internships and giving students access to the alumni directory.
“I think career placement is an issue that affects every student if they’re interested in having a job or pursuing academic plans when they graduate,” Liss said. “It contributes to the baseline stress that students associate with other aspects of the university.”
Michael MacKay, CC ’15
MacKay, who is currently studying abroad at the University of Oxford, is focusing his campaign on improving the role of technology in student government.
“I think that the senate is something that should be accessible to everyone. I would set up some type of Google Hangout once a week,” he said. “I really believe that technology is going to be the best thing we can do for our community over the course of the next three years.”
MacKay, who is also a member of the Kingsmen, wants to use the senate’s authority to make changes to LionSHARE, foster student collaboration for startups, and encourage the development of online platforms like Piazza, through which students can ask for help with classes.
“It creates an information flow where you can really know what’s expected of you,” he said. “The technology is already there, more or less. We don’t have that drive yet, to push that into our own pedagogy. We’re moving into a new paradigm of teaching.”
MacKay said he chose to campaign on technological improvements because of the limitations he sees in the quality of life survey.
“I guess the big question is what is done with the quality of life survey that has taken so long,” he said. “The student body is expecting some sort of result from that endeavor.”
Daniel Stone, CC ’16
Stone, an editor for The Lion, wants senate committee meetings to be open by default and to create a student-elected position on the board of trustees.
“It would allow student feedback to ultimately be heard by the board of trustees who govern this university,” he said.
Stone also stressed the importance of transparency in the senate’s rules committee, which deals with issues such as students’ right to protest.
“I think it should worry students that the way free speech is being handled on this campus is dealt with so secretly,” he said.
Along with his transparency-centric platform, Stone advocates relocating the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center to a more central location.
“It’s an encumbrance to people who don’t live in the quad. This hurdle shouldn’t exist for people who are in terrible situations and need immediate help,” he said.
Ramis Wadood, CC ’16
Wadood, the current CCSC class president of 2016, is focusing his campaign on increasing openness in senate committee meetings, reforming mental health services, and opening cross-registration for classes across all undergraduate and graduate schools.
Wadood, who currently serves as a senate staffer, said that he hopes to increase the number of students who can serve as staffers.
“I’ve spent countless sleepless nights working on the senate. There’ve been a lot of all-nighters pulled for senate,” he said. “I think that expanding the staff will give students more opportunities to be involved but it will also take a lot of work off the staffers and the senators.”
Wadood wants senate meetings open to the public by default, so each committee would have to vote to justify to close a specific meeting. Currently, only Student Affairs Committee meetings are open by default.
Michelle Haines, SEAS ’15
Haines wants to improve financial aid and housing opportunities for international students and 3-2 engineering students—need-blind admissions currently do not apply to international students, and 3-2 students are not guranteed housing past their first year or are promised to have their full financial aid needs met.
“3-2 students aren’t guaranteed housing, or full financial-aid to be met, and that’s just small stuff students have to deal with,” she said. “The fact that international students aren’t accepted need-blind is a huge conflict of interest to our student body.”
Haines also thinks that her lack of connection with the Engineering Student Council will help bring additional student voices to university discussions.
“There’s a huge communication gap between the administration and the students,” she said.
Jillian Ross, SEAS ’16
Ross, the current ESC vice president for communications, said her council experience will help her promote existing initiatives like sexual assault policy reform and improve student access to University data. She also wants to build closer connections between SEAS and the global centers.
“A lot of SEAS students aren’t able to study abroad, or are unaware of these great global centers Columbia has, and unaware of how we can best utilize these,” she said.
Ross also hopes that opening up data will encourage students to create apps that improve student life.
“Columbia collects a lot of data every day on students, like swipes in John Jay, etc.,” she said. “So releasing that data can be used for applications or just used to improve everyday Columbia apps and everyday Columbia life.”
Katharine Celentano, GS ’17
Celentano, who formerly worked as a senate legislative assistant, said that as senator, she would focus on improving financial aid for GS students and help students get the resources they need.
“The number one most important issue for GS students is unequivocally financial aid,” she said.
Celentano, also a student representative for the Columbia University Family Support Network and former president of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, said she will advocate for improving resources for families and providing students with resources to learn coding.
“I think that right now, we’re in an interesting bubble where you see elementary schools starting to teach coding, and a job market that suddenly demands this of our graduates,” Celenato said.
Calvin Ching, GS ’16
Ching, currently the legislative assistant for the General Studies Student Council, wants to expand childcare services for GS students and ensure that non-residential students have the same access to medical resources.
“GS has an established reputation as an undergraduate college for nontraditional students, and as part of that definition we expect to include people with children,” he said. “There’s absolutely no excuse for us to not have adequate childcare facilities.”
Ching thinks that moving the Rape Crisis Center/Anti-Violence Support Center would be a valuable step in improving this.
“The Rape Crisis Center is located in a building for which swipe access is not available to GS-ers, and that’s something I hope to correct,” he said.
Jin Han, GS ’16
Han wants to improve student life by providing better information on administrators and improving the resources available to help undocumented students.
“I’m actually considered an undocumented student, so it gives me the unique position to understand the needs of what students like myself are put through,” he said.
Han also wants to give military students access to the gyms at the Campbell Sports Center, which athletes already have access to, because they are often required to meet a certain standard of fitness.
Umar Mohammed, GS ’15
Mohammed wants to overhaul the University’s leave of absence policy and find ways to bring GS closer to the other undergraduate schools.
“I would like to see integration in the GS community—during orientation, we can have a program between GS, and Barnard, and CC,” he said in an interview.
Mohammed, who also works as a student caller, said he would promote this coherence by creating a full-year requirement for Literature Humanities so GS students can “fully enjoy the intellectual development of the Columbia Core,” he said in a follow-up email.
Emma Bogler, Emma Goss, and Rana Hilal contributed reporting.
Corrections: An earlier version of this article misstated that Combined 3-2 students do not receive need-blind admissions. 3-2 students receive need-blind admissions, but are not guranteed housing past their first year or to have full-financial needs met. An earlier version of this article also misspelled Katharine Celentano's first name. Spectator regrets the errors.