Some question loss of campus-specific governing councils
One year after the elimination of campus-based governing councils, some student politicians are questioning the effectiveness of the new student governing system.
The new system uses campus caucuses within the Rutgers University Student Assembly, in lieu of independent governing councils, as well as separate professional school councils.
Zaid Abuhouran, president of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) Governing Council, said the model is not effective. He believes campus-based councils help solve many issues and concerns students have.
“I hope that RUSA revisits the constitution. Hopefully we can go back to how it was before, with focus on the campuses, which worked better,” he said.
Abuhouran said after the elimination of the campus-specific governing councils, including the now defunct joint SEBS and Cook campus governing council, the Cook campus, where many SEBS students reside, has not received much attention from RUSA.
“It’s the nature of the beast. RUSA is such a large organization it has to focus on larger, University-wide issues,” he said.
Matt Cordeiro, president of RUSA, agreed but said the only organizations that are campus-specific are professional school governing councils.
“Unless you’re from professional school councils and your life is dedicated to being on one campus, you do not have this allegiance,” he said. “RUSA has to oversee all of the students including nearly half of enrolled students who commute [or live off-campus].”
After the changes, Cook campus’s responsibilities fell to the newly created Cook Campus Caucus, which is a part of RUSA. But the caucus has not taken up any initiatives, Abuhouran said.
“It’s not technically our responsibility [anymore], but because the school is housed on the Cook campus we have to take initiatives,” he said.
Cordeiro agreed with Abuhouran and said the focus of each caucus should be reviewed.
“I agree we need to do better. We need to find out if anyone is having trouble running the caucuses,” he said. “Maybe it’s better for RUSA to support the [professional school council] instead of the caucuses taking initiative.”
Abuhouran said his council invited the Cook Campus Caucus chair to SEBS Governing Council meetings but said his attendance was infrequent.
“The Cook Campus Caucus works more on larger issues with RUSA, and they haven’t worked with us as much,” he said. “I don’t even know who the chair this year is.”
Former Cook Campus Caucus representatives did not comment on last year’s initiatives. A new chair has not yet been elected.
Parth Oza, president of the Engineering Governing Council (EGC), which serves the engineering students who reside mainly on Busch campus, said although the council does not have much interaction with the Busch Campus Caucus, he likes the fact that it allows the EGC to be more involved.
“The majority of students are engineers and come [now] to the EGC with concerns,” he said “I see it as a positive as the council gets to work more closely with students on campus.”
Oza said there have not been significant changes since the elimination of the Busch Campus Council.
“The campus dean and students now come to us or the pharmacy governing council to voice their concerns,” he said. “There has been slightly more workload but overall it did not have much of an impact.”
RUSA faculty adviser Kerri Wilson said students should remember RUSA is still fairly new, as it was only formed in 2007 after the different colleges within the University merged.
“Prior to 2007 each college had its own governing associations, and after the creation of the School of Arts and Sciences there was a need for a centrally structured government,” she said.
Presidents of all the governing councils came together and recognized the need for RUSA, but the campus-specific governing councils remained as they were, Wilson said.
“They didn’t know what the University’s structure was going to be,” she said. “The presidents of the governing councils came together and created this structure they thought hopefully will be effective.”
But students pushed for RUSA to have more control two years ago and a referendum was passed, she said.
“In the 2009-2010 year the committee on structure looked at suggestions brought to the student body by students who wanted to bring the power and voice of the University to RUSA,” she said.
Cordeiro said he is the second democratically elected president in the University’s history, and that things will continue to evolve for the better.
“In the past, the process of electing a RUSA president was three times removed from the student body,” he said. “Students would vote for a campus governing council board, which then picked RUSA representatives, which then voted for the president.”
The current RUSA government consists of a president, vice president and a treasurer and representatives from the different campuses and governing councils, according to its website.
Cordeiro said there are representatives from different governing councils and there are six caucuses.
“There is one caucus for each of the five campuses, Cook, Douglass, etc., and there is one off-campus caucus,” he said.
Wilson believes the system is more efficient.
“The campus-based councils’ main objective was to co-sponsor events,” she said. “They essentially were funding organizations for events around campus.”
Since last year, that ability was taken from some governing councils, said Kyrie Graziosi, Douglass Governing Council (DGC) president.
“The DGC receives funding through student fees. The council still has a budget, but we’ve lost the funding that we used to co-sponsor events,” she said.
While the DGC does not represent a professional school, it remains a residential college and retains a governing council.
“We’re in a unique position, we’re sort of in the status of professional schools, [but] the governing councils of professional schools maintained the funding they had before,” she said.
Graziosi said the changes negatively affected the DGC and took away some power and control away from the council.
“We lost our University Senate seats after the restructuring,” she said. “We were able to get a seat back after petitioning RUSA, but we used to have four seats in the past and so did all the other campus councils.”
While abolishing the other campus councils had adverse effects, Graziosi said the move was neutral overall for the DGC.
“We were aware why the changes had to be made. We were in the talks and were part of developing the RUSA constitution,” she said. “Also consolidation has been good and has led to an increase in transparency.”
Cordeiro said the evolution of the organization would lead to more changes.
“RUSA’s mission has changed, and resources are not being doled out on a campus-wide basis,” he said.
Wilson said RUSA has to set out specific guidelines of what it wants the newly formed campus caucuses to do.
“RUSA needs to define what the purpose is of campus caucuses,” she said.