I write this article on behalf of College Government cabinet.
In recent years, the student body has become increasingly troubled with the expectations placed on College Government (CG) cabinet. In particular, the amount of work that each individual member is tasked with –– on top of a rigorous academic course load –– has caused concern. As the chief justice, I dedicate anywhere between 20 to 25 hours of my week to College Government or Honor Code related tasks without any compensation. That time is split between meetings, senate, Honor Code hearings and administrative discussions, among other things. Other members of CG Cabinet also work extraordinary hours, planning Marathon Monday, reviewing funding applications or supporting minority students across campus. I offer all this information to make a few points: first, that we volunteered for these roles because we are passionate about the work that we do. We see an opportunity to improve Wellesley through a more equitable Honor Code, robust political discussions or an inclusive senate space. Each person on College Government Cabinet dedicates their attention to enacting changes that we believe will improve campus for the better. As such, amendments we create are presented with the best and most earnest of intentions.
I also mention the number of hours per week to make a second point: sometimes, these expectations are unreasonable and we cannot complete all the tasks required of our roles. That reality indicates the need for a structural change, which was the driving force behind the amendment proposed in senate.
As of now, each member of cabinet chairs a different College Government committee. For instance, as chief justice, I chair the Honor Code Council. The director of on-campus affairs is in charge the Schneider Board of Governors (SBOG). The multicultural affairs coordinator oversees the community action network (CAN) and so on. What is important to know for this referendum is that the College Government vice president chairs the Student Organizations and Appointments Committee (SOAC), which supports on-campus organizations and appoints students to roles on different committees across campus. SOAC handles appointments to groups as varied as Honor Code Council, the Board of Trustees and the Disability Advisory Committee, among others. These are two drastically different focuses for one committee, which has been a point of discussion in SOAC for many years.
This year, as has been the case previously, SOAC’s attention could not be adequately split between organizations and appointments, given the magnitude and logistics of handling both. Oftentimes, most of the attention has been dedicated to student organizations, while appointments fall by the wayside. In the fall, SOAC introduced a new and improved organization recognition model to better support the multitude of groups on campus. Of course, such a monumental effort requires many hours on the part of the CGVP, the SOAC organizations coordinator and the rest of the group. Planning the new model took all of the 2018 academic year and half of the current semester. All of this is to say that there is something fundamentally flawed about the SOAC model. For all of that time, the appointments side was dismissed. “We were told there just wasn’t any time to dedicate to appointments,” says Felicity Pollard ’21, one of the current SOAC appointments coordinators.
The proposal to rework the fundamental structure of SOAC was introduced to the core leadership team about a week before the idea was brought to Senate. CGVP Saafia Masoom ’20, Vice Chair Diana Lam ’20, Organizations Coordinator Emily Pearson ’20 and Appointments Coordinators Felicity Pollard ’21 and Erika Herman ’21 discussed the merits and downsides of the proposal in a weekday meeting. Pollard recalls that she and Herman believed that “the amendment would solve all of the issues that appointments faced at once.” Over the weekend, general members of SOAC gave their input as well. Their concerns were related to the timeline, workload and feasibility of the proposal but, following, each of these was addressed. The timeline was pushed back, while the students who would be incurring the most work were the ones spearheading the change.
Much of the controversy and perceived “drama” surrounding the SOAC changes came from the senate session held Tuesday, Feb. 19. The timeline was such that the proposal was presented first to senate and then to the rest of SOAC. Pollard recalls realizing that much of the confusion resulted from a lack of tangible information on the proposal, so she, Herman, Masoom and CGP Kimberly Chia Yan Min ’19 all decided to rewrite the measure one weekend. Over the course of five hours, they created a document with numbers and specific mechanisms for the creation of a new committee and new cabinet position. Following a second debate in senate, SOAC realized that people needed more information on the measure before the vote, so they held listening sessions in McAfee and Lulu and tabled in Bates Dining Hall and outside Lulu Dining Hall. In total, three people came to the listening sessions. On cabinet, we often run into the issue of apathy from the student body, which SOAC faced in this case. In any case, feedback revealed that people were misinformed about the proposal, so a new timeline was created that pushed the senate vote back to March 18. The Tuesday before that vote, members of SOAC volunteered to attend every single House Council meeting that was being held that evening. However, HoCos were cancelled to accommodate for the Trans Day of Visibility keynote speech. SOAC members held more listening sessions and tabled across campus, but still fought low turnouts.
When senate voted on the SOAC changes on March 18, they passed with 68 percent of the vote. The positive impacts of the changes are manifold: first, the CGVP’s role would be split into two positions, with each one overseeing either the organizations or appointments committee. As of now, the CGVP oversees both, which is an overwhelming amount of work. The proposed structural change would allow for more attention to be dedicated to appointments. Moreover, the new committee would be made up of students who were appointed to different roles on campus, allowing the CGVP to draw from a greater knowledge base when handling appointments related issues. As of now, SOAC is made up of senators and general members of the student body. Therefore, they often do not necessarily have the background knowledge to comment on the experiences of student appointees. The CGVP would also have immediate contact with student representatives, rather than having to connect with them through administration. Appointed students are often disconnected from SOAC, since there is a relative lack of communication. This change would enable more direct conversations about community issues to be transmitted to appointed students, either through senate or SOAC.
There are also benefits for having a role dedicated to student organizations on Cabinet. As of now, SOAC is tasked with handling the logistics of the Organizations Fair, liaising between students and administration, coordinating Presidents’ Training, and maintaining contact with all student groups throughout the year. Time does not allow for proper training of all SOAC members, which means most of the labor falls on one or two people. This proposed change would give an organizations chair more administrative contact and visibility, as well as the added resources of College Government cabinet. A new role with more support will allow both the person in this position and all student organizations to thrive.
For the student body, there are also positive consequences. First, SOAC has received feedback that minority students often feel overwhelmed when walking into an interview conducted by three cis white women. This issue arises from the fact that SOAC, as of now, has very few members who are able to preside over these interviews. When appointing people to committees that deal with race and ethnicity, disability services, or financial advisory bodies, a diverse interview panel becomes all the more crucial. The new model would create an appointments committee composed of 68 students, giving SOAC a greater pool of people to select from for an interview panel. Furthermore, student body concerns could be more easily communicated to appointed students who are, right now, forced to rely on their knowledge of campus life to voice perspectives. If an appointments committee were created, then students would know who to reach out to voice a concern, rather than the current model, in which a person must contact the CGVP who will connect them with the appointments coordinator who needs to reach out to administration to find the name of the student on a committee and so on. Moreover, a Cabinet position solely dedicated to student organizations would ensure that people are receiving the support and resources that they require to run a group on campus. The amendment would also save an estimated $6000 of the student activities fee by removing the three coordinator positions on SOAC, which are all paid hourly. Instead, the CGVP and organizations chair roles on cabinet, which are currently unpaid, would receive some compensation.
The question of whether College Government cabinet should be able to take a stance on this issue has arisen. As Chief Justice, I am faced with the question of impartiality often, so I will continue to rely on precedent and procedure to answer this query as I do all ethical puzzles. No referendums have been filed in recent years, so what has been done previously is unknown. However, the CG Constitution offers these stipulations: first, that a referendum may be filed if any member of the student body collects a petition with 200 signatures and second, that voting should be well-publicized for at least three days before the vote. Nowhere does the CG constitution specify who should be in charge of publicity, who should run the vote, or who may take the initiative to launch a campaign. The director of student involvement will be administering the vote and, as this is not an election per se, there is no Elections Committee. College Government cabinet, therefore, has no obligation to remain an impartial party. We believe that on account of our roles and experience, we are uniquely qualified to comment on the merits of adding another cabinet position to decrease the workload on the College Government Vice President (CGVP). As such, we chose to run a vote “yes” campaign. Any member of the student body is free to suggest voting “no,” if there are arguments for doing so.
What I want to make clear is that this proposal was created with the best of intentions. No member of College Government cabinet would willingly take on more uncompensated work, especially to the degree that the vice president has already, if they did not believe wholeheartedly in the necessity of these changes. Each iteration of this amendment incorporated more student feedback, so that this proposal could be shaped into its best possible form. The amount of time and energy that SOAC has poured into this measure is remarkable and cannot be overstated.