Student government hosts week of events to improve transparency

Students had the chance to throw a pie in the face of a Senator of their choice as part of Student Senate Week. (credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor) Students had the chance to throw a pie in the face of a Senator of their choice as part of Student Senate Week. (credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor)

With the academic year now in full swing, Carnegie Mellon’s Undergraduate Student Senate hosted “Student Senate Week,” a series of events aimed to increase visibility and awareness of Senate within the student body.

Activities began last Tuesday with Senators greeting fellow students with free donuts and asking them to write down any suggestions or improvements they had for Senate or campus. The following day on the Cut, students who provided these sorts of comments or concerns were given the opportunity to pie a Senator. These activities led up to Thursday’s event, where University President Jared Cohon gave a speech to a Senate session. The purpose behind these events was “to get to know what the campus wants,” said Nancy Brown, an H&SS Senator and junior in ethics, history, and public policy.

The Senators’ increased focus on student body awareness and visibility may be a response to past criticisms of the organization, which have included a lack of member dedication and transparency, as well as not accurately reflecting the wishes of the student body.

The problems that plague Student Senate’s reputation were acknowledged by Senator Amy Quispe, a junior computer science major. She stated that the organization “usually doesn’t fill all of our Senate seats.”

But the publicity efforts appeared to be fairly successful, with Breed Hall nearly filled for the beginning of Cohon’s speech.

“This semester started off with a bang,” remarked Cohon, who commented on the Bill Dietrich donation, the university’s new campus in Rwanda, and having Carnegie Mellon ranked 21st of the world’s top 200 universities by The Times of London.

The remainder of Cohon’s speech was devoted to discussing his goals for Carnegie Mellon during the final years of his term as president, outlining a “global vision for the Carnegie Mellon brand.”

Cohon described his hopes for Carnegie Mellon’s satellite campuses as well as future initiatives for the expansion of Brain and Learning Initiative. He also discussed future renovations to the university’s athletic facilities and a potential foundation to assist recent graduates who are starting their own businesses.

At the conclusion of Cohon’s talk at the session, a member of the audience asked why the university’s budget was not completely open, in a fashion similar to the student activities budget. In the theme of transparency and openness, Cohon suggested that a presentation could be given to Student Senate, and by proxy the student body, on the university’s finances.

The meeting then got down to regular business, featuring presentations by the Senate’s Special Allocation Committee and official Senate subcommittees. Senators also approved boards created for this year’s sessions.

On the topic of visibility, Quispe said that students have three options to voice their concerns to a Senator. They should first talk to a Senator for their specific school, but students may also come to Senate body meetings, where there is a specific time dedicated to hearing student concerns and suggestions. Finally, students may also attend committee meetings, where suggestions and comments on that group’s specific topic may be heard.

Student Senate Week concluded with a free barbecue at the Fence last Friday, along with drinks and desserts at Saturday’s football game.

This week of events served to publicize the Student Senate as an organization and attempted to gain recognition among students. Whether these efforts will allow the Student Senate to overcome its past criticisms, however, remains to be seen.