CCSC: Council Members No Longer Have to Attend Council Meetings

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It’s a long one! Our Satow Room Bureau Chief/Muckraking philosopher queen Sarah Ngu has lots to say about Sunday’s CCSC meeting.

The Decision

At the majority of student council meetings, a remarkable amount of time is spent discussing unimportant details. Recognizing the state of “complacency” in CCSC, President Aki Terasaki made the executive decision (read: it was not up to vote or discussion among council members) to no longer make attendance at any Council meeting mandatory, unless a vote has to be taken. “[We don’t] want to force people to take their position seriously,” Terasaki said. Council will pilot the policy for the entire Spring semester.

Terasaki had been contemplating this decision for awhile and his ideas were confirmed after conducting evaluations from Council members and talking with (pro bono) a meeting consultant Al Pattampalli, an acquaintance of Virat Gupta, the VP of Communications. The resounding feedback was that meetings were too long and felt perfunctory, and that people weren’t really motivated to get things done. The new policy would “trim the fat,” by retaining those most invested, encouraging communication via email, and allowing people to focus on their interests. Council meetings, ideally, would become much more like “open forums” for the public.

Everyone agreed something had to change, but the whole E-Board wasn’t entirely behind Aki’s decision. Jasmine Senior, VP Campus Life, was concerned that the lack of mandatory attendance would make it harder for her committee to get things done. However, after the meeting ended, there was little lingering debate. Bwog spoke to a few members who agreed with Terasaki’s assessment of the problem, but attributed it more to a lack of leadership, and did not believe this new policy would change much.

The Current Structure

Here’s a brief rundown of how CCSC is structured, to give you a sense of the way things are run:

  • There are four class councils, with five people on each.
  • Each class council plans events for their class (these are still mandatory), and each class council member is required to serve on a Campus Committee: Policy (they change stuff), Funding (they give money), Communications (they are the information liaison between body and council) or Campus Life (they put on campus-wide events).
  • The heads of each Campus Committee, in addition to the overall CCSC president, form the Executive Board.

The Implications

Terasaki nailed the problem of a lack of motivation. There are, to be sure, a few standout council members: Virat Gupta and Wilfred Chan have transformed the website, and Karishma Habbu, has introduced significant reforms of CPS and Financial Aid. By contrast, take policy committee: While the VP, Ryan Cho, and a few other reps like Bruno Mendes, are doing a lot, 25% of people in the committee aren’t involved in affecting any policy changes, and come just to talk. During the discussion itself, three or four people dominate, and contribute all of the policy ideas.

The inertia of the council could be explained in two ways: It’s either a problem of leadership, or the members. A leader needs to inspire his members with a vision, hold them accountable for it, and challenge them to step up.  Or if it’s the members fault, maybe there’s nothing the leader can do, and he should only work with his most motivated members.

Aki has effectively decided it’s the later— the membership is the problem. The Council has tried to motivate all its members, he said, by encouraging everyone and reminding them that they were elected. He feels that these strategies have now reached their limit.

Are students electing the wrong people, if they’re voting at all? Or is everyone at Columbia too busy and spread-out to really be committed? The recent outburst of campus activism displayed by the Student Wellness Project (full disclosure: this reporter is a participant) and the Student Forum seems to indicate that there’s no shortage of passion. Council members are part of these projects and have collaborated on planning an Undergraduate Student Space. But CCSC is not leading the campus conversation on what really needs to be done at Columbia. Council lacks a sustained sense of urgency. Part of this is due to individual motivations of members, but you cannot overlook the prerogative a leader has to cast a compelling vision and lead.

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  1. Anonymous

    Sounds like someone should resign

  2. anonymous

    LOVE the hashtag: maybe instead of asking a consultant you could talk to STUDENTS

    • Jasmine  

      That is one of the intentions behind the change in weekly meetings. They have always been open to the public but we want to now emphasize that they are there for students to attend and speak with us about whatever issues they want us to address. Our hope is that these meetings will actually become more productive due to this change. Sarah briefly mentioned this calling them "open forums" but perhaps town halls would be a better word to explain the new meeting style.

      While I appreciate Sarah's perspective, I think that the CU community should understand that we're trying to change the way we do business. Having a meeting just to have a meeting is not effective; however, it's the way we've been functioning for a lot of the semester. We're therefore trying to make some changes so that we can actually help our community in a substantive way.

      • ccsc vet

        "I think that the CU community should understand..."

        with all due respect, Jasmine, because you're one of the few that work really hard at what you do, that reflexive defensiveness and patronizing tone is why students won't engage with their council, and instead go to other outlets like Occupy, Wellness Project and Forum (and tons of 0ther groups that have poped up this semester) to be respected by their fellow students.

        • Jasmine  

          My intention was not to come off as patronizing. The "I think that the CU community should understand that we’re trying to change the way we do business" sentence was meant to express the intention behind the meeting change. Many individuals have expressed that they believe the meeting change is meant to "do less work" or they feel as if we are not properly reaching out to students. I am only responding and saying that we hope this meeting change will address those issues. And instead of doing less work, we hope that these changes will help us do more effective work.

          I really do not want anyone to ever feel as if they cannot approach the council to give us policy/event ideas AND feedback. But from your comments ccsc vet, it appears that people do. Hopefully, having a more open meeting will address this problem.

          Also, hopefully me saying that we are definitely open to any and all opinions helps too...

  3. Anonymous

    If you don't want to attend all the meetings, don't run for Student Council.

    There, done. Fuck bureaucracy.

  4. Mr. Man

    Bring Back Felipe Tarud!

  5. Disappointing.  

    Motivation, productivity and direction are always, always functions of leadership and facilitation. It is a sign of poor leadership and lack of personal responsibility to place blame elsewhere. I hope the next EBoard finds a better solution.

  6. Someone who actually attends the meetings  

    As one of the very few people who actually attend the meetings, this decision makes sense. You can make all the comments you want against this change, but until you have actually seen the way the council functions and the meetings/committee meetings, you are ignorant. Or what you can do is come voice these concerns at one of the student council meetings, that is what the meetings are for :o... but that of course takes effort and time and bwog comments are much easier to make.

    • ccsc vet

      "You can make all the comments you want against this change, but until you have actually seen the way the council functions and the meetings/committee meetings, you are ignorant"

      So, Sarah's been going to CCSC meetings and committee meetings for two or three years now. She spoke to every CCSC president going back 5 or 6 years for her amazing 5,000-word Eye article on the council. Does that make the blog post uninformed?

    • Truth  

      There are two issues here: first is the question of how a polity ought to relate to its government and the second has to do with CCSC's power within a larger university that, frankly, could give a shit about undergraduate education.

      Address the question of how students should relate to their student government, I have to ask is it our responsibility to come to student government to get them to do shit? All I ever hear from CCSC is, "tell us what your issues are and we will work on them!" Okay, but that takes time and energy on my part that I don't want to give. This may sound absurdly lazy, but its not that I don't have issues I would like to see resolved, it's that I'm too busy with my own work to do the work of the people who ran to be on CCSC. The road between CCSC and the student body has to be a two way street I grant you that, but it is CCSC's responsibility to create an avenue for student input that is convenient for the students. Holding a once-a-week meeting in Lerner where, now, less council members will be in attendance, is not what I would call a great avenue. I don't have a solution, but again, that's not my job, that's CCSC's

      The second issue is that CCSC is struggling to come up with issues to address. With the exception of Wilfred's Student Wellness Project and Karishma's work on financial aid, the Council has done very little of substance this year. They are not to blame for this because CCSC has no power to address the really important issues of this university. Want to change the exam schedule, go to the Senate. Want to hire more professors to teach the Core, talk to the committee on the Core Curriculum. Want $300 of free cupcakes, talk to CCSC.

      • Jasmine  

        Please look here for updates on CCSC's work:

        The new Junior Re-group policy will also be added soon.

        This link is specifically for policy but please look around the site for more info. We understand that you're busy so we are trying to use multiple methods of communicating with you. This website has been up since the beginning of the semester and will exist throughout the spring. Please give us feedback and suggestions (click on "talk to ccsc"). While we would love to be able to think of everything that's wrong on campus, we just can't. Everyone has a different experience so we need your feedback.

        The new meeting style will be more beneficial for students who have ideas or issues that they want to discuss in detail with someone who might have more information than they do.

  7. Duh

    I hope the next e-board doesn't include Ryan Cho.

  8. Anonymous  

    Please note that the role of CCSC Exec Board and CCSC Class Councils is vastly different, and while it is the role of the Exec Board and their committees to make campus-wide changes, the role of the class councils remains to coordinate class programming and communicate with the class.

    I think what this change is saying is that those who are interested in joining those committees specifically should do so, while the class councils should keep the focus on their class programming, which is unfortunate, because the class councils should really serve as liaisons between their classmates and the university, not as party planning machines.

    One thing article refuses to acknowledge, though, is that some Council members are actually elected to fulfill a certain role on the campus, such as Karishma and Bruno (Student Services and Academic Affairs), and if there were more elected positions such as these with well defined roles, then Council would be much more effective.

    • That

      sounds exactly like how a class council representative would think. The problem is that while class councils do have requirements to provide programming, they also have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of their class. They are a part of the CCSC, whose constitution states :"The students of Columbia College elect the Columbia College Student Council (CCSC) to serve as their primary representative, advocate, and liaison to the Columbia University community, including its administration, faculty, alumni and students, as well as to 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 designed to foster cohesiveness within the entire undergraduate population."

      And let's not even get started on Article II, Section 3 where it says they can't have more than three unexcused absences...

      The point is that just because people on Council are failing to do their job (with some notable exceptions like Wilfred, Karishma, Jasmine, and Kevin) doesn't mean that they should be excused from doing it. It means that they should either be made to shape up or be kicked off CCSC. Aki needs to figure out that just because he and the majority of the CCSC are there to pad their resumes doesn't mean that it should be the acceptable norm.

      • bjw2119

        Look, while I agree with many of your points and sympathize with your frustration, you should take some perspective. First, while CCSC has room for improvement, it is nowhere near as bad as things were under Krebs or Learned Foote. People like those you pointed out and others like Kenny Durell and Ryan Mandelbaum have been doing good work. The Councils also haven't stood in the way of outside initiatives to improve campus like the CU Student Forum (which I run) or Wilfred's Student Wellness Project, and the Council has supported some projects from those initiatives, like the student lounge proposal or the things Wilfred and Karishma are working on. Second, in order for CCSC to get good people to run, it has to present itself as a body with potential to improve things for students on campus. If you go from a CCSC with nearly no one doing good work, like last year's disaster, to a CCSC where 5 people do good work, maybe next year the example of those 5 people will yield 10 really dedicated and passionate people. If you threw out all of the deadweight on CCSC right now, who would want to step in and replace them?

        Finally, as to your point about the constitutionality of this, Virat seemed to think that there was nothing in the Constitution or the by-laws to say this wasn't kosher when I raised the concern last night. You should bring it up with Robert Taylor if you find otherwise in the Constitution.

        • Of course

          the VP of Communications wouldn't think there was any thing in the constitution to say that his President couldn't unroll a massive change that officially lets the council off the hook for doing its job. And don't Aki and Kevin vote on your budget? Your hardly an unbiased perspective

          • Anonymous

            I'm an outsider but I do take exception to your claim that CCSC was not doing any work under Krebs...I don't know about Learned's tenure but I do know that CCSC was incredibly active and accessible under Krebs, they even had a biweekly column in spec to discuss issues. I think the problem right now is that there is a disillusionment on campus with the ability of CCSC to accomplish any real change (which is sadly true) and there is a lack of a leader who can actually inspire (Aki). I don't know how one would go about changing that, I'm not even sure one could. After MMA's resignment, Feniosky's controversy and everything else that's been going on, I think people essentially recognise student government for the farce it is

        • You've got to be joking  

          Learned Foote was able to get together a lot of diverse and interesting voices. Sure, not every liaison came every week, but he encouraged collaboration a hellofalot more than the current board.

  9. Anon

    Sounds like a terrible idea. At least it's a pilot. I'd reduce the pilot phase to half a semester at the longest, though.

  10. CCSC Member  

    I appreciate people who feel CCSC is not living up to our ideal hopes for a representative body. I agree that we need to try changing our structure if we are to better effect change on campus. I'll even give you there is dead weight of people on council who aren't giving enough effort.

    That being said, there are many dedicated people on council who get gray hairs running around campus trying to make life better for the undergraduate community. Unfortunately, as has been mentioned, people are often too busy to notice or care this work is occurring and how much advocating we do that is up against the brick wall of the administration. I find it really disheartening throughout this article, "with the exception of x,y,z, CCSC isn't working hard." Well I personally put my all into the work of this body and it makes me and other feel like shit when we are perceived of as shit.

    I personally am interested in developing new strategies to push CCSC to the next level of engagement but the community should stop being so cynical about us as if we are power hungry, resume padding undergraduates with no investment in our school.

    I pledge to attend every meeting and to always be prepared, however I can only hope people can ackowledge that we care and that we try. I'm not looking for a medal or an ego boost but a sense of community solidarity.

    <3 you Columbia!

    • Another CCSC Member  

      Absolutely agree on this. Discussion boards where everyone calls out who is doing work, who isn't, and who previously failed is literally the stupidest use of any of our time.

      First off, Sarah has done a fantastic job of misinterpreting the point of Aki's reform. Aki was not blaming "the membership." Rather, the point is simply that the way CCSC functions is a natural product of the way we are organized. Having large, time-consuming meetings where we continuously give updates on stuff and then debate for an hour, even if most of the body is not working on the project makes no sense. It's a waste of time and elicits criticism that usually is irrelevant. Same premise with committee meetings. If people don't want to work on these committees, then why slow the whole group down? Usually, CCSC members choose not to focus on committee work because they want to do alternative projects that are more in line with exactly why they got elected in the first place.

      We were elected to do work, not to sit in on meetings. Let us do it. Kudos, Aki.

      • sarah ngu  

        Well, I'd like to hear more about these alternative projects. Shoot me an email at [email protected]

  11. Anonymous  

    If I'm collecting you to be my class rep, vp, prez whatever, I expect you to be at all weekly meetings so you are INFORMED about the things that are happening at the school, with the student body, and involve council input. That's the least you can do.

  12. Anonymous  

    Another way to fix this, is to create incentive structures like internal "Reps of the month," "Programming of the month" etc. Although it is curious that council members wouldn't already be motivated by re-election incentives.

    Also a lot of it is structural. Why not require the class councils to run for elections like the executive board does? The whole party wins together effectively building chemistry, obligation to fulfill your party's promises, and most importantly designate committee representation before hand to each rep! Just as you have a VP Finance, Comm, Campus Life, Policy...why can't CCSC just make that a requirement during elections? Then the rep and the voters would all know what the rep is supposed to do after being elected.

    Simple things.

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