April 15, 2008

2008-2009 S.A. President-Elect Prepares to Usher in New Era

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Having served on the Student Assembly for the past three years, the 2008-2009 president-elect Ryan Lavin ’09 has seen a lot. And by the end of his term, he hopes that the undergraduate community will be looking at an improved and more effective S.A.
“I’ve been on the assembly from an era that had a lot of internal problems,” Lavin said. “People labeled it as corrupt, unproductive … That was an assembly that wasn’t able to get much through for the student body.”
He explained that a disconnect exists between the way the S.A. is perceived by the community and the way it sees itself.
“Internally, there is a perception of hard work and good culture, but outside, there is a different perception, which poses some problems with getting undergraduate participation,” he said.
The composition of the new S.A. differs somewhat from years past as 10 of the 16 members have never served on it before, including two members of the ’08-’09 executive board. Current and incoming members hope that the addition of the new opinions and perspectives will have a positive result.
“We bring in … new people who have been criticizing the S.A. and wanted to do something to change it. This is a motivating force to point S.A. in right direction in terms of what issues they will be discussing,” current S.A. President C.J. Slicklen ’09 said. [img_assist|nid=29869|title=Incoming|desc=S.A. president-elect Ryan Lavin ’09 gives an introductory speech in Goldwin Smith in March.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Slicklen also said he thinks Lavin is well-suited to drive in the next phase of the S.A.
“Lavin is very focused on getting people excited and interested and talking about the issues that relate to them. He is a good uniter, will be able to work well with the new members … and help them execute their ideas because he is so familiar with the resources,” Slicklen said.
In addition to leading the S.A. and working with President David Skorton, Lavin said he aims to connect the undergraduate community.
In March, a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis was conducted on the S.A. by a group of external community members, trustees, former and current representatives and administrators. The results were presented at the S.A. meeting on April 10.
The report outlines specific structural and cultural changes the S.A would like to see implemented next year to improve past deficiencies, such as increased voting rights and altered meeting structure.
Lavin said he sees the implementation of the SWOT report recommendations as one of his major responsibilities as president next year, and said he hopes it will help him to improve the assembly in the face of its past difficulties.
“Given Ryan’s experience, and given the SWOT report and its recommendations, Ryan in a good position to make a real difference,” Kent Hubbell ’67, dean of students and advisor to the Student Assembly, said.
Lavin sees undergraduate participation as integral to the S.A.’s ability to accurately address issues of concern to the community.
Even though the SA is obliged to follow up on anything that is addressed by community members in the “open microphone” session at the beginning of each S.A. meeting, an average of one community member attends each week.
“With a community of 13,000 plus undergrads, my guess is that there are issues out there but they’re just not coming up to use the mic,” Lavin said.
Lavin cited Robert’s Rules of Order, a widely used set of rules governing the structure of assembly meetings, as a main culprit for deterring student participation, saying that students can sit for hours without the chance to say anything because they cannot officially be recognized. Additionally, he said that the open-rectangle table setup may create an environment less conducive to discussion between the S.A. and community members.
“Even something as simple as changing the physical structure of our meetings and the way we operate and communicate with community members at the meetings could make it more conducive to community member involvement,” he said.
The S.A. does currently have an open, small-group forum in its weekly roundtable committee meetings, but participation in these project-based meetings is low, even though committee resolutions go straight onto Skorton’s desk.
In addition to publicizing the open committee meetings, in accordance with SWOT, Lavin intends to hold new town-hall style open forums to allow the undergraduate body to address its grievances in a less formal setting and to allow the S.A. to better gauge sentiments and follow with the appropriate formalized legislation.
Lavin also aims to include a limited number of voting rights for the audience members at regular S.A. meetings to encourage participation, as proposed under SWOT.
Hubbell said that it is possible that because it’s an election year, the S.A. could look a lot different during the last few months of the election this fall.
“There’s been a lot of internal changing in the past three years amongst the Student Assembly and its organizations, and now we have to reach out to the undergraduate community and they have to become a part of this progressive feeling,” he said.