This week’s ESC meeting mainly focused on the council’s participation with administration to address the recent mental health crisis at Columbia. Discussions regarding the proper use of Columbia club bank accounts were also mentioned.
During yesterday’s Engineering Student Council (ESC) meeting, Executive President Neha Jain announced that the E-Board would be meeting with a number of deans to discuss ESC’s 10 page addendum to the University Senate’s Student Affairs Committee memorandum to the President. The goal of the upcoming meeting, Jain said, is to discuss the issues and suggestions outlined in the addendum, essentially ensuring that the deans and ESC are both on the same page. Jain also mentioned that they would be meeting with the graduate engineering student council to talk about better training for TAs, so that more faculty may be able to better respond to mental health issues among the undergraduate student body.
Multiple council members questioned whether the Administration was receptive to these discussions, prompting Jain to explain that the email the E-Board received had been CC’d to all of the deans involved, “which is unique.” She overall believes that they are taking it seriously and “are receptive to hearing us.” University Senator Izzet Kebudi clarified some aspects of the University Senate’s administrative outreach as well, noting that the Office of University Life, led by Suzanne Goldberg, is the Senate’s main target. At the last plenary session, a certain amount of pressure was placed upon this office, with faculty representatives adding to suggestions made by the co-chairs of the Student Affairs Committee in regards to campus life and mental health. ESC’s addendum was among the strongest of all the addenda to the Student Affairs Committee’s memorandum, so Kebudi believes the administration will be responsive.
Otherwise, the representative from the Spectator asked Kebudi specifically about the response from the Office of University Life, as during Sunday’s CCSC meeting, CCSC took the Office of University Life’s response negatively. Apparently, the CCSC Senator claimed that the response from the Office of University Life had appropriated many of the ideas brought up by the Student Affairs Committee. Kebudi responded that they were surprised by the memo that was sent, but that the co-chairs of the Student Affairs Committee clarified the positions of that committee in relation to University Life’s memo.
The other major topic of discussion yesterday involved Student Financial Advising, as the Executive Vice Presidents for Finance from both CCSC and ESC met with Josh Lucas, the Director of Student Engagement, about club bank accounts. Many student organizations are utilizing bank accounts outside Columbia, meaning that the policies which apply to the use of money granted by Columbia are being subverted. As the clubs are representative of Columbia, the policies attached to club funding are viewed as extremely important. At the moment, Administration is encouraging club leaders and club advisors to report on club usage of off-campus accounts so that the money can be moved to an appropriate bank account without penalty. According to VP for Finance Aida Lu, they are trying to figure out why clubs are doing this.
In the discussion of this initiative, Lu responded to 2017 President Cosmas Sibindi’s suggestions regarding the gathering of information for this directive before punishment is considered. Lu clarified that, while she otherwise agrees, inappropriate club use of money is against student policy, and so a focus on gathering information is moot. Executive VP for Student Life Piyushi Bishnoi asked if they had discussed the use of Venmo, as many clubs preferred to utilize that service despite its conflict with Columbia-affiliated accounts. Lu says she had brought up Venmo, to which the Administration responded that they “never heard of Venmo.” This is surprising given a response not too long ago to other members of ESC that Venmo couldn’t be used to the risk of “Venmo being hacked.” A legitimate concern with Venmo was brought up, however, by 2019 Representative Asher Goldfinger, who noted that Venmo sometimes flags transactions which it identifies as dangerous, holding up student money in the process. Thus the problem with the private club accounts, Lu summarized, is the total lack of oversight in use and distribution of legitimate club funding.
- The Capital Investment Fund (CIF) is still preparing to hand out money as funding for student group projects. CIF has $10,000 ready to give out, but, as a result of poor advertising, has not received many applications for use of this money. ESC encourages any group which may need funding for projects to get involved with CIF.
- In regards to the creation of identity-based student areas/lounges, the Administration responded that if the rooms behind the current mail room are emptied out and renovated, there will be room for a single new space to be dedicated. This means that the two proposed groups, LGBT and students of colour, will have to vie for a single space. In typical administrative tone, it was suggested that both groups utilize the same space with alternate programming days. One more space might be in the works, however, as they are attempting to reduce the size of Honey Sue’s (Executive Director, Business Services and Lerner Hall Operations) office in Lerner. Apparently, enough new room will be created from this renovation to create a new piano lounge.
- ESC representatives met with the Insurance Advisory Committee again, mostly in the hopes of presenting any issues Columbia’s insurance policy creates. Of note in this discussion was the statement that insurance would not be going up a radical amount next year, though ESC still wondered what exactly the benefits to the Columbia insurance are over a free market plan.
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