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Welcome Back: ESC Talks Elections

Last night, Engineering Student Council reconvened for their first meeting of spring semester. Staff writer Zöe Sottile went and learned about various project updates as well as the changing elections process.

VP Policy Zoha Qamar
VP Qamar announced her new role as ESC representative for the Student Group Adjucation Hearing Panel, a panel with six members – CCSC, ESC, GSSC, IGB, ABC, and SGB. The panel deals with mostly financial violations, such as not filing paperwork or performer agreements – in the case of Bacchanal – on time. Hearings are on Friday afternoons, and while their content is confidential, the outcomes will be public. She explained that a similar board exists for Greek life groups, and announced a motion to vote for an alternative representative as well.

Election drama, just as important at ESC as in the USA.

She met with Associate Dean for Undergraduate Student Affairs Leora Brovman to discuss efforts to make study abroad more accessible to engineering students. The plans include creating flyers for each major that show where students have studied abroad and what courses they have taken. Moreover, Brovman is interested in updating the training for first-year advisers and updating the language in the study abroad bulletin.

While not much progress has been made towards dispensing emergency contraception on campus, VP Qamar did meet with the CCSC 2021 and 2020 representatives to discuss support for free tampons and pads. She’s creating a Google form for both individuals and clubs to pledge their support.

VP Student Life Ben Barton
VP Barton went over some of the upcoming events ESC is planning. On February 8th at 10 p.m., ESC is hosting Midnight in Mudd, which will be 1950’s-diner-themed and loving catered with breakfast food by JJ’s. Engineering Week is happening February 19th – 22nd, and will feature four different ESC events. Two of these are industry talks, and one is a student group showcase; the other is still in the works. He also mentioned that University Life monthly meetings will be on Friday at 4:30 p.m.

University Senator Izzet Kebudi
Senator Kebudi discussed the reception for University Senators held by the Columbia Alumni Association (CAA) over the weekend. They reported the specific low satisfaction areas in the quality of life survey to these alumni. Kebudi pointed out that these are areas where alumni could step in and provide additional support systems to students. They also discussed the long-standing issue of space on campus: specifically, the lack of appropriate rooms for groups that want to hold large panels. Kebudi discussed the possibility of clubs partnering with CAA to find off-campus venues for such panels.
He also discussed efforts to include Economics in the OPT STEM Extension, a topic that he admitted did not specifically concern engineering students. The OPT STEM Extension doubles the time allotted to international students to remain in the U.S. after graduating. While Economics majors at Columbia have not historically been eligible for this extension at Columbia, at other peer universities they are increasingly becoming eligible. Though Senator Kebudi expressed interest in ESC supporting this shift, it remains unclear exactly what steps are necessary for it to become a reality.
Finally, Senator Kebudi mentioned that the Lerner renovations are on track to be completed during April. Senator Kebudi will give an extended presentation about the renovations on February 23rd at the Senate Plenary.

Elections Process
The major topic of discussion at ESC this week was the new elections process. The conversation revealed a large flaw in the structure of student governments: everyone wants fair, transparent, equitable elections processes, but no one actually wants to help run them. President Lu pointed out that there are accountability and transparency problems with having a completely separate board run ESC elections, but also problems with impartiality if the elections board comes entirely from the ESC itself. One council member proposed asking staff at Undergraduate Student Life assist in elections; however, President Lu refuted that by pointing out that those adults really just aren’t interested in helping out.

A variety of ideas for a new elections process were discussed. One idea was that CCSC seniors could adjudicate ESC’s election and ESC’s seniors could adjudicate CCSC’s. Another member asked about ways to get the community involved somehow, though members struggled to figure out an easy and effective way to incorporate community input into the process. One member suggested a “jury duty” process by which a council member was randomly selected, an idea that points to just how unwilling the student body seems to be to participate in elections. Adjudication is a massive undertaking – perhaps not one for randomly selected and uninterested students.

For the past three years, the third party that ran elections struggled to recruit new people every year until eventually they were only able to recruit one. GSSC used to use the same election board as ESC and CCSC, but now wants a separate process to reflect their qualitatively different student body. GSSC tends to function differently than ESC in general: whereas they have succeeded in appointing individuals to adjudicating boards, in ESC that has been met with backlash.
President Aida Lu stated that after a general plan is created, ESC needs to form a specific process for appointing commissioners and vice commissioners, roles that will likely be completely independent from ESC. Because President Lu and VP Qamar are juniors, they plan to recuse themselves from those discussions.

Ultimately, the council voted to form a group of seniors – thus ineligible for election – to lead the 2018 general elections. It remains to be seen what seniors specifically will be a part of this group and what kinds of elections process they will create.

– Watch out for GlassHouse Rocks on February 1st! There will be twenty-four performances, t-shirt giveaways, and free food.
– Charles Harper is leading an initiative with the Roosevelt Institute to gather funding for clean energy and energy efficiency projects on campus. They hope to meet with CCSC and ESC soon.
– A new website is in the works and should be up soon.

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