United RUSA retreat is prescription for success
This year, the Rutgers University Student Assembly is taking the unprecedented step to unite student representatives of all the different campus and professional councils by organizing a retreat for its representatives at "Happiness Is Camping," an organization that uses proceeds to provide free camping and other opportunities for children afflicted with cancer. But while RUSA is attempting to unite the student body, others are questioning the validity of the retreat and its ability to serve its purpose. In his column in Monday's edition of The Daily Targum, Ben West, chairman of the University Affairs Committee, argued that the retreat was unnecessary because of its high price tag and lack of guarantee to achieve the desired result: helping elected representatives serve their constituents.
The first issue that should be addressed is the price tag of the retreat, which West asserts as being "the same amount of funding that the campus councils had spent on several smaller retreats in the past." The estimated cost of this retreat, which stands right now at $17,000, is actually more than 40 percent less than the total funding that the six different councils received last year to finance their own individual retreats. That translates to a savings of $13,000 in student fees that can be utilized to serve the historically underfunded groups on campus, as well as other worthy ventures. It should also be mentioned that the contract with Happiness Is Camping has already been signed, so any call for the event to be cancelled is not a practical one because student fees would be wasted in addition to a valuable opportunity being lost.
The second issue that was brought up is the questioning of what can be accomplished at a larger retreat. As the author points out: "If it is clear that a small off-campus retreat does not guarantee success, why would we expect a larger one to be productive?" This is a valid point and I applaud him for bringing it up. But it should be noted that it is for this very reason that RUSA has decided to plan this united retreat, to make a genuine push towards teamwork and cooperation among the different councils by spending a working weekend together. It is more than just about getting representatives excited about their positions, but allowing them to build connections across the campuses that will be necessary for them to serve effectively in their respective positions. While it is true that there is no guarantee at all that this retreat will succeed, when has there ever been a pre-guarantee associated with any student event? One must be willing to attempt bold new approaches when past ones have not worked. It is also imperative to remember that while RUSA may have been invisible since its inception in 2007, it is a reflection of the leadership of the past and not of the current leadership under RUSA Chairman Werner Born.
If RUSA's leadership this year turns out to be like that of years past, then one certainly has a right to argue against a united, all-campuses retreat for future years, but until then, student leaders should rise to the challenge by taking an active role to ensure that this retreat succeeds in allowing student leaders to get the most out of it and learn how to better serve their constituents when they come back from the event. Therefore, I ask for the members of the student body to give this retreat a chance and to take criticisms of it with a grain of salt. Through this multi-campus effort for unity and cooperation, student government from all areas of the University has the opportunity to truly become the voice of the student body.
Bo Wang is an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy junior. He is also president of the Pharmacy Governing Council.