Representative Democracy, We Got That: 2011 Edition

Written by

Alexander Hamilton, an alum, founded SGA.

Bright young things: in the next few weeks you will be introduced to a dizzying array of organizations, acronyms, slang, and food trucks. Bwog knows it can be difficult to keep track, so to ease your bureaucracy-induced agitation is Bwog’s CCSC correspondent Brian Wagner, here to untangle the web that is Columbia’s undergraduate student government.

The Senate and The Councils

Columbia University Senate

The Senate is Columbia’s überlegislature, and a testament to the fact that we were the first University with a formal bureaucracy. The unwieldy body represents “faculty, students, and other constituencies.” The plenary meetings of the Senate take place roughly once per month throughout the academic year.

Hyperbole aside, here are the cold hard facts: The Senate has 108 voting seats, with 63 reserved for faculty, 24 for students, 6 for officers of research, 2 each for administrative staff, librarians, and alumni, and 9 for senior administrators including the president, who chairs monthly plenaries.

Action on the Senate floor may not seem as immediate as that in meetings of your Student Council (or Government Association—hey Barnard!), but these heirs of Webster and Calhoun get to weigh in on some of the Columbia community’s most pressing issues: from the lively and sometimes rowdy return of ROTC to the much-discussed-outside-Butler smoking ban, the budget-monitoring resolution on fringe benefits for university officers, and “rules governing political demonstrations.”

CCSC – Columbia College Student Council

The Columbia College Student Council is elected by students of Columbia College to serve as their primary representative, advocate, and liaison to the Columbia University community, including its administration, faculty, alumni and students, and the public. The CCSC is charged with gathering and expressing student opinion, actively representing student views, appropriately addressing student concerns, ensuring that college students are fully apprised of all information of impact to their undergraduate experience, responsibly and equitably distributing student activity fees, and working with other student groups to program college-wide events—like Glass House Rocks and Casino Night—designed to foster unity within the entire undergraduate population.

ESC – Engineering Student Council

The Engineering Student Council is elected by SEAS—err, CE—students. In the past, the ESC Executive Board was elected by ESC members rather than by the entire student body, but beginning this year, ESC E-Board elections will be public. ESC represents the interests of CE students and acts as the primary liaison between those students and the administration. ESC also runs CUAssassins, “the best way to legally carry a pretend gun on campus.”

GSSC – General Studies Student Council

GSSC represents the undergraduate population of the School of General Studies and acts as a liaison between the student body and the General Studies administration, the larger university community and other individuals and organizations.

SGA – Student Government Association

All Barnard students are members of the Student Government Association by contributing their student activities fees, which fund over 80 SGA recognized clubs and student programming. The SGA Representative Council, elected each spring by the student body, is the primary middlewoman between students and the administration.

The SGA advises on policy issues, coordinates Tri-partite committees of faculty, administrators and students and co-sponsors student programming. As both a funding and governing board, the SGA works in collaboration with student groups to enhance campus life, affect change, instill a sense of Barnard pride and promote community. This past year, the SGA played a major role in helping Barnard get its Greek on, by first officially recognizing sororities at Barnard, and later bringing back Barnard’s Greek Games.

Class Councils

In addition to the major student councils, there are also individual class councils. Within each school, every year has its own group of elected and non-elected positions (the elected ones attend major council meetings and vote on stuff) which make up a class council—president, vice president, class reps, etc. They’re the ones in charge of giving you a lot of free food (mainly via study breaks), putting up a lot of [lame] flyers, as well as doling out some sweet class swag.

The Governing Boards

ABC – Activities Board at Columbia

One of the governing boards that gets its cash money straight from F@CU, ABC has a few functions, but its most important is to fund student groups using money allocated by F@CU. Speaking of which, their process for doing so was revised just last spring in an effort to make it “easier and more holistic.” Nearly 160 organizations with a wide range of goals and functions fall under the purview of ABC. Each of those groups falls into one of  these categories: pre-professional, academic, competition, cultural, special interest, performance, publication, media, performing arts, and large scale events.

Groups that fall outside of those categories are funded by other governing boards.

ABC also serves as liaison between organizations under its umbrella and the Office of Student Development and Activites and enforces guidelines through a Judiciary Committee.

CI – Community Impact

Community Impact is Columbia’s largest student service organization – over 900 members! CI is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that has been around for three decades. CI has partnerships with more than 100 community organizations and agencies who do service work in the Harlem, Washington Heights, and Morningside Heights communities, including service organizations, social service offices, religious institutions, and schools.

CSGB – Club Sports Governing Board

CSGB is the governing board responsible for, you guessed it, club sports.

IGC – InterGreek Council

IGC is the self-governing student organization that provides leadership, guidelines, and support to its member organizations within each of the three Greek councils at Columbia, the Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council, and Multicultural Greek Council.

SGB – Student Governing Board

SGB serves the needs of student organizations whose concerns are religious, spiritual, political, ideological, activist, humanitarian or identity-conscious in nature. It is the only governing board comprising students from all four undergraduate schools, and was born out of the ’68 protests to protect students’ rights on campus.


F@CU – Funding at Columbia University

Like Zach Galifianakis, it has the power of the purse. F@CU’s funding decisions for the upcoming year are still pending, but spot last year’s here.

The purpose of F@CU, according to itself, “is to facilitate, support, and enrich student development in the form of student activities of campus.” But if that doesn’t tell you much (or anything), you’re not alone. Essentially, F@CU is responsible for distributing the Student Activities Fee. F@CU is composed of the incoming and outgoing Presidents and Treasurers of each undergraduate Student Council, for a total of 16 members. These titans of student activity funding meet during reading week at the end of each spring semester to hear out the proposals of the governing boards (ABC, CI, CSGB, IGC, and SGB—read on to see what those are) and make their decisions. F@CU has an uncharacteristically (for Columbia) straightforward website, and they explicitly tell us why they made the decisions they did.

The money allocated by F@CU trickles down through the governing boards to fund everything from Bacchanal to the Varsity Show. And those are just a few events; F@CU funds also provide for the day-to-day needs of hundreds of student organizations.

F@CU can also make special allocations to groups other than the governing boards. For instance, in the past F@CU has allocated money to WKCR, the radio station housed in Lerner.

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  1. you forgot

    you forgot the individual class councils for each year in each school. dreams within dreams!

  2. RON PAUL 2012

    VOTE RON PAUL 2012

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