Enact meaningful changes
The Rutgers University Student Assembly is great in theory but terrible in practice. Last week, Eric Knecht wrote an article titled "Referendum on RUSA," where he questioned the importance of the organization. Like nearly everyone else, he condemned the upcoming retreat but did not offer any constructive criticism. If the fundamentals of RUSA can be fully realized, I believe it has some serious potential. They give us the opportunity to voice our opinion and enact meaningful change. Knecht, on the other hand, wants to rid the student body of all possible means to combat the University bureaucracy. With that being said, the track record on RUSA has been abysmal. They have an arbitrary allocations process, no power within the administration and concern themselves with internal conflict. As assembly Chair Werner Born has already stated, the retreat has been paid for and is set to take place on October 23 to 25. So, I want to lay out a few issues that need to be addressed, before the ghost stories but after the marshmallow roast. The retreat should deal with these topics and be discussed in the following order:
1) Improving the allocations system. At the end of every term, student organizations are required to submit a form requesting money for the following semester. The RUSA Allocations Board decides the budget for every club. Funding is usually restricted to two events, six tournaments or 13 publication issues. Because these forms have very limited information, the board makes their decisions based on these basic funding guidelines and individual club aspects, such as membership and past expenditures. But for organizations such as the Rutgers Debate Union, the team must go on more than six tournaments. In addition, they invest hours of training into each debater and live by the philosophy "quality over quantity." RUSA needs to set up a system where organizations have the opportunity to justify a budget with extra events or smaller membership before the start of every semester. In order to be effective, some clubs need to run four events, attend 12 tournaments or go on two $20,000 retreats. The board never truly understands each individual situation unless they take funding on a case by case basis. Giving groups this opportunity minimizes the appeals process, as organizations will be more properly funded.
2) Giving student organizations more liberty and choice. There are many policies that act as barriers to clubs, but there are two that stick out in my mind: co-sponsorship and food guidelines. First, the majority of an organization's budget comes from its program line; this line is highly restrictive and mandates that allocations cannot be spent on another club's event. The only way to fund an event is then to use generated revenue. But because most organizations do not engage in money making ventures — as they shouldn't — co-sponsorships are very limited. As a result, groups are deterred from co-sponsoring, because they cannot make a meaningful contribution. This guideline must be changed, as it creates an artificial barrier that keeps clubs from working with one another. An adjustment in policy will not only help organizations cope with budget shortfalls, but it will also promote a greater sense of harmony on campus.
Secondly, student organizations can only purchase food at contracted University vendors. Using funds for outside restaurants is out of the question, unless each business signs an absurd $1 million policy. There are liability issues, of course, that need to be addressed, yet RUSA should take it upon themselves to open up access to other vendors. The University is always talking about having a larger part in the community, as it hosts an annual Rutgers Day event to make citizens feel better about eminent domain. But this is one way to actually create sustainable growth within the area. RUSA does not need to paint at local schools to make up for the retreat — it just needs to pass impacting resolutions that would truly benefit the New Brunswick area. Overall, improvements in co-sponsorships and food would greatly enhance student involvement.
At this point, these two topics will have caused a few internal fights. To make matters worse, former Internal Affairs Chair Kevin Nedza might interrupt the event by telling everyone to opt out of their The Daily Targum bill. Yet I am confident members will come to an agreement and Born and West will be friends. So, RUSA members should take a break and engage in a few trust falling exercises, as these next three issues will require a unified student assembly.
3) Accumulating more power on the Board of Governors. The most powerful student on campus should be the BOG representative. Presently, RUSA is nothing more than a symbol to the University. It gives students the illusion that they actually have a voice on campus, when in fact the administration quietly goes about their agenda. Eleven people — who are completely out of touch with the University — make decisions for thousands of students and faculty. RUSA needs to start presenting more proposals and less suggestions. It needs to lobby for an increased role in the decision making process. For instance, students know best about the minor infrastructure defects around campus. Doors are missing in stalls, pipes are leaking and windows remain broken. RUSA should slowly convince the BOG for an added role on small financial decisions. This will not only make the organization more relevant, but students will actually be stakeholders in the University. Thus, it will promote more involvement and activity in RUSA itself.
4) Enforcing resolutions. Last semester, a resolution was passed to ensure that all departments place a syllabi link in the schedule of classes. Some have posted the required synopsis on their Web site, but many have not published the syllabi. Resolutions will be deemed useless if no one cares to follow them. RUSA must find ways to enforce all of these laws, even if its members have to personally do it themselves. In addition, it should expose violators of these bills via the Targum or Ben West, chairman of the University Affairs Committee. It is important that these resolutions do not go unnoticed. There must be repercussions of such actions; otherwise, RUSA will remain ineffective and hopeless, similar to the United Nations.
5) Stopping the internal bickering. Last year, we had to hear about RUSA and special interest councils, in which genuine representatives such as Former RUSA Chair Chris Keating were personally attacked. This keeps students from ever coming to meetings in the first place. There is so much internal conflict that RUSA misses the whole point of itself. It is suppose to be combating things like tuition increases or stadium expansions. It should not, on the other hand, be concerning itself with the importance of the Asian Student Council's vote or the financial transparency of the Targum. Members are all making real attempts to improve student life, so it is important to look beyond the petty arguments. If this means climbing a few ropes on the weekend then so be it. RUSA just needs to come back unified with an intended goal and purpose.
To RUSA: I personally do not know how to go about these issues, but that is why I am not in your position. All of you, especially the allocations board, have been very helpful to my organizations and me. You are all dedicated members and I appreciate your hard work. But the system is broken and it needs to be revamped. You all have the knowledge and research capabilities to enact meaningful legislation. If these suggestions can be taken into deep consideration, I do not even care if you spend $40,000 on this retreat. Just make sure change awaits when you are done.
Brian Canares is a Rutgers College senior majoring in history and political science. He is also president of the Libertarians and vice president of the Debate Union. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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