Aug 162009
 
Authors: Kirsten Silveira

After a mostly “dormant” summer, CSU’s top two student government leaders are looking to implement several initiatives to strengthen relationships between administration and students and to project an appearance of environmental friendliness that is in line with CSU’s “green university” image.

Tim Hole, the vice president of the Associated Students of CSU, said this month that President Dan Gearhart’s administration is working with CSU’s rival institution, CU-Boulder, to better represent the voice of Colorado’s students.

“Because we are so closely related . we feel it is important to create a unified voice in the face of the oncoming budget cuts,” Hole said in an e-mail interview with the Collegian.

ASCSU has acted as CSU’s student government for more than 50 years, and, Hole said, the university has more pull than any in the state when it comes to influencing state and school policy.

And in an economy where one Colorado politician said the state’s higher education system is “in the yogurt,” a student government’s ability to influence the direction of colleges and universities is crucial, Hole said.

“We will actively engage the university, city and state to effectively represent students and keep the cost of higher education at manageable levels,” he said.

Also, Hole said, ASCSU –/which has similar structure to the U.S. government with an executive, legislative and judicial branch –/is working with state student government organizations to better represent students at the Capitol.

The Associated Students of Colorado, a student body that was created in late 2007 to work with state lawmakers to slow the quickly increasing trend of higher education becoming more expensive here, is undergoing a constitutional rewrite, Hole said early this month.

ASCSU, Hole said, is one of the more active student governments in the state and actively champions issues of higher education at state and local levels.

Searching for voice

ASCSU has tried in the last half-decade to build a closer relationship with state, local and CSU leaders as Colorado fell to the bottom of the barrel for higher education funding in the nation.

During former CSU President Larry Penley’s tenure in the top university office, former ASCSU Vice President Trevor Trout said administration here was rife with “blatant disregard for the constituency,” which he said was mainly students.

So, two years ago, then-ASCSU President Katie Gleeson and Trout spent the time of their administration fostering a closer relationship with prominent state politicians to establish a stronger voice with school officials.

In spring semester 2008, four student leaders, including Gleeson, Trout and August Ritter, Gov. Bill Ritter’s son, presented a proposal for a 10 percent cap on tuition increases for CSU to the state appropriations committee –/the move was the first open communication a state student government organization had with the legislature.

Quinn Girrens, last year’s vice president for ASCSU, said early this month that her and then-President Taylor Smoot’s administration had to focus on “rebuilding relationships” between student government and CSU administration after former CSU President Larry Penley suddenly resigned amid a shroud of criticism Nov. 5.

But, after the change in leadership at CSU, now-President Tony Frank has established a much more transparent mode of operations with the student body.

“In my first message to campus last week as interim president, I committed to improved communication and open collaborative decision-making … there is probably no issue of greater interest to the broad Colorado State community given the state of the global economy than the status of our overall financial foundation,” Frank said in a press release last year.

And student leaders applauded Frank’s transparent philosophy.

“Tony Frank is the best person for this position,” Smoot said the day Penley announced his resignation. “He shows up. He’s the man.”

At the same time, though, Gearhart said in an interview last year, student leadership needs to become more prominent, as there is no student opinion represented on CSU’s governing board.

The student government president sits on the CSU System Board of Governors, but doesn’t have a vote. His main goal during his campaign, he said, was to get voting rights for the president on the board.

“We need this,” he said. “The students are paying more and more and more money.”

Changes coming with increase in funds for ASCSU

Last year, ASCSU implemented a 50 percent increase –/up to $1.8 million from $1.2 million — for its student fee, and officials are looking to bring changes to several of the organization’s programs, including its “flagship” RamRide, which is a free program that offers rides for students and community members who have been drinking. The program operates on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

One of the reasons for the large spike in its budget, ASCSU officials said, is because the group absorbed the student fee for Student Media, which includes the Collegian, last year after Student Media went private. Student Media’s fee budget is about $500,000.

Other initiatives being supported by the administration include environmentally friendly projects like the single stream-recycling bins and the 15 new bike racks that were installed on campus by Smoot and Girrens.

Gearhart and Hole also plan to implement a paperless billing system, provide more on-campus recycling resources and work to create designated parking spots for carpoolers.

“We are engaging the campus community in order to further green initiatives across the campus with the aims of creating a truly green university,” Hole said.

The chief spokesperson for student government, Matt Strauch, said ASCSU provides a good template for student governments across the country.

“We are a model for other programs because of our large budget and our ability to involve the community surrounding campus,” Strauch said.

Development Editor Aaron Hedge contributed to this report.

Staff writer Kirsten Silveira can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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