Senate talks new campus center, ex-officio member

Oct. 10, 2018, 12:29 a.m.

In the eighth meeting of the 20th Undergraduate Senate, Director of Student Unions and Operations Jeanette Smith-Laws spoke about a proposal to construct a new campus center.

Senator Matthew Wigler ’19 also proposed a bill to make Tim Vrakas ’21 an ex-officio Senator, a member who has the privileges of a Senator but cannot vote. Vrakas lost the 15th Senate seat to Wigler in the 2018 Senate elections after invocation of the upperclass district, but has since remained a regular attendee at Senate meetings.


New campus center

Proposals for the new center include a movie theater, meeting spaces of many sizes and pop-up businesses. Senators also suggested including practice spaces for music and theater groups.

According to Smith-Laws, who works for the Office of the Vice Provost of Student Affairs, the center would be located “in the neighborhood of White Plaza.” Smith-Laws confirmed that construction would not involve tearing down Old Union but did not specify the location of the center, which Smith-Laws said would be larger than Old Union.

“We want you to push the limits of space,” Smith-Laws said.

The new campus center was initially proposed four years ago. Despite positive reactions from then-President John Hennessy and then-Provost John Etchemendy, the proposal was turned down under the current General Use Permit due to competition with research facilities.

“But [the proposal] has taken on new life,” Smith-Laws said. “There’s a lot of interest in it. It’s a priority of the President’s office.”

Following a question from Senator Jamie Seney ’21 about the aspects of the permit the campus center did not comply with, Smith-Laws responded that she was not sure and that she would send the information later.


Vrakas as an ex-officio

According to Article II, Section 3.D.2, “ex-officio members of the Undergraduate Senate shall have all the privileges afforded members of the Undergraduate Senate but shall never be permitted to vote.”

These privileges include attending closed meetings, proposing legislation, serving on subcommittees and talking during meetings.

The Senate has the right to declare any student an ex-officio member via majority, and the bill will be voted on at next week’s Senate meeting.

“[Vrakas] has been incredibly valuable at all of [the Senate] meetings, contributing, asking good questions [and] helping to steer us in a direction that’s consistent with where we want to go,” Wigler said.

While several senators expressed support for the bill, Senator Tyra Nicolay ’21 called attention to the meaning of students’ votes in ASSU elections.

“We also should think about the [time] commitment to becoming Senators and the process that it took us to get here,” Nicolay said. “Not to say that [Tim] didn’t do part of that but just understanding that we were voted here by the overall student [body] in general.”

Vrakas thanked Wigler, saying that even though he would not have the ability to vote, his priority is “getting a chance to make things better across campus.”

Following the 2018 Senate elections, Vrakas publicly considered the possibility of bringing a suit before the Constitutional Council to challenge Wigler for the final Senate seat, but he eventually decided against it.

Additionally, Student Life Committee Chair Martin Altenburg ’21 proposed a “Meet the Senators” event to take place during the week of Nov. 5. Senator Leya Elias ’21 also expressed a need for more constructive use of free speech on campus.

“A lot of students on campus are looking for some forum to discuss … the Supreme Court nomination,” Elias said. “They feel like the silence on the end of the University has been a little deafening. I think as the Senate … we could try to coordinate something where we could recognize and validate people’s emotions on campus.”


Contact Zora Ilunga-Reed at  zora814 ‘at’

Zora Ilunga-Reed is a columnist and a junior studying Philosophy & Literature. A native New Yorker, she was a Copy Editor, Desk Editor and Staff Writer in volumes past. Read her column if you want to hear her thoughts on the woes of humanities students, tech culture and more.

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