What a difference a year makes. A year ago I was jumping into a student body race for a position for which I had a vision and passion, but little understanding of the true complexity of the task. With a reliance on friends, many of whom I can never thank enough, and a firm belief in the principle that strong co-curricular experiences at Miami are to strong student life on campus, I set out campaigning to be the Vice President of Student Organizations for Associated Student Government. Lucky for me, a majority of you found me qualified. Now as a new election cycle is almost upon us, I find myself looking back on a year ago – the promises I made, the challenges presented since then, and the difficulties along the way.
I must be honest. For many years I had a dim view of student governance. This is partially because I didn’t understand the complex and sometimes overwhelming problems facing our campus leaders and also because some of them earned that scrutiny. I think this is one of the reasons I was most attracted to first being a Student Senator and later a vice president. For me, it hasn’t been about the publicity or face time with administrators. It has been the challenge of taking a broken system and changing it for the better. When I looked at Associated Student Government I saw an organization that lacked vision and at times a true understanding of what it meant to represent students.
This year I have taken on many challenges. The most important of these has been establishing the Vice President of Student Organizations’ credibility as a professional resource for all student organizations and not a figurehead separated from his constituents. In the past some of my predecessors have been more concerned with helping their friends and benefiting their own organizations. This lack of integrity would destroy any position and was a chief concern for me entering the year. While the only people who can answer whether I have succeeded are the leaders of student organizations whom I have worked with this year, I firmly believe that real progress has been made in this direction. Changes I have made include frequent letters, emails, and personal contact with student leaders to ensure that issues are addressed before they become problems. Additionally, I have surrounded myself with advice from a diverse group of students outside of the typical student government circles.
Another challenge has been the outdated online application process for funding. To address this need a new funding Web site has been implemented with two goals in mind-transparency and accessibility. For years the public was not able to see why organizations received the money that they did, let alone the events for which the money was intended. Now a new public records function on the Web site allows anyone to see line item requests for all student organizations. The funding Web site also combines many different parts of the funding system to simplify the overall process.
As a former leader in a student organization, I found that there was no single resource that helped guide me through the struggles of planning events or even simply reserving a room on campus. When I took office, this was a problem that I knew had to be addressed. Now, in conjunction with the Office of Student Activities, a new resource guidebook for student organizations is set to be released within the next few weeks that details everything from planning events on campus to receiving funding from student government. This will be the first time that such a detailed guidebook has been made available. Collaboration such as this between the university and students should be a model that is used for future projects.
To go along with the resource guide, this year I have offered training sessions and feedback forums for officers in student organizations fully advertised and open to all. The goal being that the more students were educated about the opportunities available to them, the stronger their events, more active their memberships, and ultimately the better the student experience at Miami would be.
At the same time, many organizations have struggled for years with debt that has restricted their activities on campus. After years of seeing these struggles, Associated Student Government took action. Last year Brendan Buholzer passed the first version of a debt relief program aimed at matching money raised by organizations to put towards their debt. Working with Brendan, I simplified this program and ensured that as of today over forty percent of organizations in debt at the beginning of this year are now debt free.
This year, I also oversaw the return of funding for spring break service trips. For many years ASG sponsored student organizations such as Alternative Spring Break and Habitat for Humanity that took service trips, but last year funding was abruptly removed from these without prior consultation of the organizations. Now students have a responsible program set up to fund these trips while not burdening other student organizations with increased cutbacks.
Associated Student Government has also begun to do more to help remove the burden of increased fees from students. Working this year with Mike Scott, we are developing an alumni outreach program that will bring those involved with past student governments back to campus to give back to our community with their money, time and knowledge. The long-term success of student government can be gauged in many ways in how we are able to improve services and representation for students while not increasing costs. This program is a step in the right direction.
The road hasn’t been smooth to get to this point, but long hours of slaving over my computer and days of meetings with students and administrators have been more than worth it. So far, I have seen positive results, but I will let you be the final judge. At the end of my tenure I hope to look back and have left student organizations better equipped to succeed at Miami because at the end of the day this is what my job is all about.
Don’t get me wrong. My job isn’t done. I still have a semester left and closet full of ideas with which to work. I look forward to continuing to bring serious leadership to our student government for these remaining months. The challenges and opportunities available to us on Miami’s campus are to vast for leadership that isn’t proactive.