Graphic by Megan Eloise/The Gazelle
In the coming weeks, there will be a referendum
on the representational powers of Hall Council. Fellow senior Eric Johnson and I wrote a resolution in hopes that it would remedy a redundant system of representation and give more students a say in the policies they are subject to. I want to lay out the motivations and potential effects of this resolution here so that you all can see the need for this resolution and vote accordingly.
The resolution reads:
We hereby resolve that the representative powers of Hall Council or any Inter-Residential Hall Council on matters concerning school-wide residential policies should be transferred to the Student Government.
Before discussing the reasons behind this resolution, I would like to point out its key features. It calls for a transfer of “representative powers,” which I take to mean the ability to speak and act on behalf of the student body. It does not extend to Hall Council’s programming, information distribution or budget. Further, the resolution restricts this transfer of representative powers to “matters concerning school-wide residential policies.” Narrower policies that affect only a single floor or residence hall would still be entirely within the domain of Hall Council.
This resolution was proposed in response to concern among some students about Hall Council’s role in crafting residential policies. While it is not their primary activity, Hall Council suggests policies to the Office of Residential Education and most times represents the sole student input on these policies. Hall Council has recently established a Policy Committee specifically to devise residential policy. The Policy Committee has already begun working on guest policy, quiet hours and the prohibition of smoking in many outdoor areas of the Saadiyat campus. The need for new policies and adjustment of old policies as NYU Abu Dhabi moves to Saadiyat magnifies this concern. This is the time for the student body to choose who can approve residential policies on their behalf and who does not. I think that we should choose our Student Government.
One motivation for this resolution is that our current mechanism for voicing our opinions to the administration is redundant. We have two democratically elected bodies that are open to all students and are tasked, in part, with representing student interests to the administration: Student Government and Hall Council. An average student should not have to attend the General Assembly, Hall Council and various committees of Hall Council in order to shape school policy. Our goal should be to ensure that all students have as much say as possible in the policies that they are subject to. Dividing the role of approving policies and communicating with the administration on our behalf between two separate assemblies does not serve this goal. The purpose of the resolution that I’ve proposed is to make Student Government the sole body that may speak on behalf of the student body on matters of policy.
Some claim that Student Government and Hall Council simply have different scopes. Student Government brings our concerns to Student Life, Facilities, Global Education, Athletics, Health and Wellness, the Faculty Council, the Academic Resource Center and our academic affairs administration, while Hall Council’s sole duty is to bring our concerns to Residential Education. I understand entirely why Residential Education needs a dedicated student group for programming and spreading information. However, given that Student Government’s mandate is to advise the entire administration on policy matters, I do not see any reason why Student Government could not serve this role for Residential Education. It is true that not all students live on campus, although almost all have a room. However, there are many residential policies that affect resident and nonresident students alike. For example, Hall Council’s Policy Committee has already taken up the issues of the demarcation of non-smoking spaces on campus and the inclusion of certain non-residential matters in Marhaba Week programming. The Policy Committee clearly deals with some issues that affect resident and nonresident students alike, although Hall Council does not intend to represent nonresident students.
The second motivation for this resolution is that Hall Council lacks the legitimacy to speak on behalf of the student body when it comes to policy issues. The Student Government constitution was approved by 98% of the student body and elections of officers regularly pull over 80% turnout. Al Bloom signed off on the Student Government as a way for students to communicate concerns to the administration. All this is to say that Student Government speaks on behalf of the students with the approval of the student body and the administration. Student Government GAs, while certainly not as well-attended as many of us would like, are open to all and draw a fairly large number of students. Hall Council, on the other hand, was created by RAs as an organ of Residential Education. The student body never voted to give Hall Council the authority to represent the student body to the administration. Furthermore, while Hall Council meetings and elections are open to all students, in practice, Hall Council engages with far fewer students than Student Government does, both in terms of meeting attendance and election turnout.
The mechanism for the transfer of Hall Council’s representative powers on matters of school-wide policy to Student Government has been intentionally left vague. Fundamentally, the problem is that we have two representative bodies that communicate with the administration on our behalf and currently make decisions in isolation, without one another’s oversight. There are a number of ways we might remedy this. The simplest way this could be addressed is that Hall Council would send its policy suggestions to Student Government for ratification before submitting them to Residential Education as student-approved policy. Another option is to install a Hall Council representative in Student Government and a Student Government representative in Hall Council.
I’d like to be extremely clear about what this resolution is not. It is not a takeover of Hall Council. Hall Council’s excellent programming and awareness campaigns will continue unhindered by Student Government. Hall Council will continue to be a forum for the discussion of residential concerns. This resolution is also not an accusation. I do not think Hall Council has acted inappropriately or failed to take student interests into account in advising Residential Education on policy. This resolution is about who gets to sign the student body’s name on that policy.
No massive structural change will spring into effect if this resolution is passed. What will happen is that a clear message will be sent, on behalf of the student body, to Residential Education and other departments that Student Government represents us and that policy should not be considered student-body approved unless it passes through Student Government. It will also send a message to both Hall Council and Student Government that a redundant system for liaising with the administration on school-wide policy will not do. This resolution is a call for a simplification and consolidation of our system of representation to all departments of the administration on issues that affect all of us.