Last night, in the Faculty House’s fancy Skyline Dining Room, representatives of the 89 activist, political, religious, and identity-explorative student groups represented by the Student Governing Board met came together dinner to induct new groups, create an advisory council for the University Chaplain’s Office, and debate whether or not they should merge with the Activities Board at Columbia, which represents 150 other student groups.
The SGB was created in the aftermath of 1968, as a forum for students to discuss the administration. Comprised of representatives from the four undergraduate schools, it is dedicated to preserving to free speech, and promoting politics, humanitarianism, religion, spirituality, activism, by representing student groups with these affiliations.
First on the evening’s agenda was a presentation from the Columbia’s Office of Civic Action and Engagement, the administrative office that advises SGB. A representative encouraged the groups in attendance to use My Groups, a social network Columbia designed that enables people to check out all the different student groups at Columbia, join different groups, and view a calendar with all student groups’ activities (right now ‘Upcoming Events’ only lists the next 20 SSDP meetings).
After this, representatives from the 10 groups hoping to win SGB recognition were given two minutes to make their case to the audience. The SGB executive board had already voted whether or not to recommend recognition for each group, but that decision could be overturned if 2/3 of SGB groups disagreed with the board. As it turns out, none of the recommendations were overturned.
This means that recognition was granted seven groups: Camp Kesem, which recruits Columbia students to staff a summer camp for the children of parents with cancer; Columbia Students for Human Rights, which raises awareness of human rights issues; Students for Education Reform, which promotes discussion on the best way to fix the broken American education system; Design For America, which has set up a student-run studio to “use design to bring about social change”; the Journal of Global Health, which publishes academic papers on global health issues; Maranatha, an informal Christian prayer group; and Proud Colors, a group dedicated to understanding the complex identities of queer people of color.
Three groups were denied recognition: AustismSpeaks U, which aims to promote autism awareness but has only held one event so far; buildOn, which aims to build schools in poor communities in countries like Nicuragua and Malawi; and MEDLIFE, whose representatives didn’t even bother to attend the town hall.
After voting on new group recognition, the SGB groups in attendance were given the chance to vote on a major amendment to SGB’s constitution creating a Chaplain’s Council. SGB was originally created under the Office of the University Chaplain after the 1968 protests, as a way to protect the free speech of student groups. A few years ago, though, SGB moved from the Chaplain’s Office to Student Affairs, which made it tougher for the Chaplain’s Office to connect with student groups. The Chaplain Council, consisting of eight non-SGB members a chair from the SGB executive board, is an attempt to make sure the Chaplain understands and cares about student concerns.
Some SGB group leaders argued that the council wouldn’t be that effective, since the Chaplain isn’t exactly known for respecting student input. Barry Weinberg, president of SGB, explained that the point of locating the Chaplain Council in SGB was to ensure that student concerns would be addressed and SGB could use its institutional muscle to mediate between the Chaplain’s Office and student groups. The amendment passed with a 2/3 majority and takes effect today.
After the amendment vote, more than half the audience left. Those who stayed heard Weinberg explain that ABC, Columbia’s other governing board, had approached him earlier this semester offering to merge and create a new governing board for all the student groups at Columbia, though the negotiations fell through in October and haven’t been resumed since. There are some important differences between ABC and SGB: while SGB was created by the University Senate and covers groups at all of Columbia’s undergraduate schools, ABC was created by the class councils of CC, SEAS, and GS, so it does not cover Barnard groups. ABC also has a reputation for an overly complex and stifling bureaucracy. “ABC contains a lot of student-generated bureaucracy,” Weinberg admitted. The leader of one student group recognized by SGB was less polite, saying “one can’t take a piss without tripping over one regulation or another.”
The overall consensus was that SGB should consider the ABC merger offer if it is offered again, but must ensure that the resulting super-activities board respects the history of SGB (which specifically protects political and identity groups) and doesn’t contain too much bureaucracy. With that, the town hall was over and the few student group leaders who hadn’t already left headed for the exits.
All SGB meetings are open, and take place at 6:30 PM on Sundays in the Lerner West Ramp Lounge
@bjw2119 SGB is independently chartered in the University Statutes, and technically reports to the University Senate, although it is advised by the Office of Civic Action and Engagement under Student Affairs. Interestingly, OCAE also advises the Interschool Governing Board (for grad student groups spanning multiple grad schools and having some undergrads), which also reports to the University Senate. ABC is a creation of the 3 Columbia undergraduate student councils and is subordinate to them per the ABC Constitution, and reports to Student Development and Activities (not Barnard, who only funds ABC groups on an individual basis), which is an administrative office under CC/SEAS Student Affairs). SDA is an administrative office, as opposed to a (partially) elected governing body like the Senate. SDA also retains ultimate authority in decisions like whether or not to approve a new ABC student group, while the SGB operates essentially autonomously. Finally, the SGB has the sole authority to discipline its member groups.
Were ABC to continue to pursue some sort of merger with SGB, the SGB’s member groups would likely be loathe to give up their status as an entity autonomous from, though advised by, administrative bureaucracies, and would probably occur by the SGB de facto recognizing all ABC groups after changes to SGB’s constitution, who would then gain the priviliges resulting from SGB’s autonomy.
The problem with the merger in practice is that you would have a governing board of 250 or so groups, which would make the duties of the SGB Representatives of the groups far more cumbersome or would require more Representatives to handle the additional portfolios of groups. Then the problem becomes trying to efficiently run a board of 4 offices and something like 15 Reps, up from 4 officers and 7 reps. People would probably want internal administrative structures like committees for handling different aspects of running things, and you’d end up creating the same student-generated bureaucracy that characterizes ABC today, except that you’d have subjected another 90 or so groups to that same bureaucracy.
On a more experiential level, that would make it really hard for the SGB to promote any sort of shared community amongst its groups, which is easier to do now with groups unified by their value-centric missions and the relatively small hierarchy of the SGB (one Executive Board with 11 people, one General Body with a member from each of the SGB groups).
All in all, a much more complicated task than it would appear on paper…
@all your base are belong to this one
@Anonymous Link to My Groups still needs the http:// prefix. Holla, copy editors.
@ummmm learn your stuff. there are five governing boards, not just two. http://www.wikicu.com/Governing_board
@History Lesson The reason why the SGB was moved from the Chaplain’s Office to Student Affairs:
“there need to be more layers of bureaucracy to insulate PrezBo from shitstorms like the Minuteman fiasco”.
Also, the ABC is tightly linked with the administration-run SDA? Cause you can’t get approval for spending without both groups signing off. How would the different moving parts of Student Affairs division mesh with this SGB merger?