University News

UCS proposes new initiatives

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The newly elected executive board of the Undergraduate Council of Students will serve in a year of transition as members work with President Christina Paxson in her first year as the University’s leader while also seeking to implement projects that have a direct impact on student experience.

“Every year is a fresh start,” said UCS treasurer Sam Gilman ’15, citing strong leadership and the opportunity to redefine the role of the governing body as the council’s strengths this semester.

A significant year

 The council hopes to ease Paxson’s transition to the Brown community and ensure communication between students and administrators. Paxson, whom UCS President Anthony White ’13 described as willing to learn, has encouraged dialogue between her office and the council.

“I like to think we’re friends,” White said.

White has additional meetings set up with Paxson in the upcoming weeks to further clarify the role of UCS, said Alexander Kaplan ’14, chair of the Student Activities Committee and a Herald staff writer.

Paxson has stated that if the University is going to be competitive, it must improve its capacity to fund all student needs, White said. Financial aid is a “salient issue on campus,” making it a priority for UCS and administration, said White, who co-founded the student group Brown for Financial Aid last semester. Aid ensures diversity and comfortable living for Brown students, he said. 

The council also hopes to increase funding for the student activities endowment, Kaplan said. The council created the endowment several years ago with the intent to help reduce the student activities fee.  

Increasing funding for student activities involves outreach to alums and a positive student relationship with University advancement, White said.

There is currently no opportunity for Category S student groups to receive funding, Gilman said. With just a small amount of funding, student ingenuity can make a larger difference in the Providence community, he said.

White said students who want to provide for the greater Providence community should have the ability to do so.

“Students should be the main focus on campus,” Kaplan said, adding that groups must receive more funding to carry out programs and events.

What is a Brown education?

White also cited establishing a student advocate program as a goal for his presidency. The program educates students about their rights as students and includes counsel about disciplinary action, codes of conduct and navigating the University bureaucracy.

Abby Braiman ’15, chair of the Admissions and Student Services Committee, said the program marks renewed focus on student rights, privileges and capabilities.

The program would be modeled after advocacy programs already established at the University of California at Los Angeles and University of California at Berkeley, White said. Their programs have been in effect for about 30 years, and White said they have reached an “expert level” – with training and experience, students can represent one another in discipline.

“Brown would have to evolve to that system,” White said, adding that it would take two to three years before a “truly solid program” could be built.

Within their respective committees, each of the five chairs on the UCS executive board has different priorities all intended to improve overall student experience.  

Manya-Jean Gitter ’14, chair of the Academics and Administrative Affairs Committee, said her committee plans to work with the Swearer Center for Public Service to integrate social justice into the curriculum through seminars and service in the wider Providence community.

Afia Kwakwa ’14, chair of the Campus Life Committee, said she has been working over the summer to improve dining and residential life. Her committee recently oversaw the addition of nutritional information onto campus eatery websites. In the future, she said she hopes to increase hydration in the gymnasiums and release a UCS iPhone application.  

The council’s mix of new perspectives and experienced members gives them the ideal balance of institutional knowledge and fresh ideas, White said. 

As with any group, there are many perspectives and conflicting ideas, White said, but he added that members have an obligation to serve and “can work it out.” 

“Strong ideas and strong views are a strength,” Gilman said.

Restoring order

The council has also implemented changes that will go into effect this semester to facilitate its relationship with the Undergraduate Finance Board. A contentious debate arose last semester between the council and UFB after UCS proposed an amendment that would allow the council to determine its own funding without UFB approval. The proposal, which did not pass when put to a campus-wide referendum, revealed larger issues with the relationships between the two bodies.

UCS and UFB set up a joint committee last semester to assess the UCS-UFB relationship. The council will continue to submit a budget to UFB, but the committee clarified that UFB is a subsidiary of UCS, White said.

This clarification was not just a rebranding of the same organizations, said Zak Fischer ’13, chair of UFB. The UFB vice-chair will now be responsible for monitoring UCS finances. Before this change, UCS – which is considered a student government group – was previously treated like a Category III student group and was overseen by a UFB representative, Fischer wrote in an email to The Herald. This system will be more thorough and efficient, he added.

UCS and UFB have also arranged bilateral exchanges of information through emails and meetings. While UCS members were already required to attend UFB meetings, UFB members will now also be required to attend UCS meetings to improve communication.

“Anthony is very committed to creating that alliance with UFB,” Gitter said.

The UCS referendum last semester “kind of came out of nowhere,” Kaplan said, adding that he felt UCS general body members were not consulted in the decision. The council will also prioritize improving communication within UCS itself and ensuring transparency within the council, he said.

Increasing visibility on campus is also a priority for UCS and UFB. Students should understand both what their government does and their stake in it, White said.

“Hand-in-hand with transparency comes student outreach,” Gilman said. Though he acknowledges that students may not have a direct interest in every decision made by UCS, he said they should have access to those decisions.

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