Democratic process should decide shell space use

Last semester, the university began expanding and improving the Jared L. Cohon University Center (CUC). The construction will create 4,559 sq. ft. of empty, unfurnished space — "shell space" — on the third floor of the CUC.

The Undergraduate Student Senate bought 3025 sq. ft. of this shell space for $50,000, and the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) bought 1534 sq. ft. Senate plans to use the space as a collaborative lounge and study place for students, according to Senate Chair and junior information systems major Evan Wineland.

Senate provided the money partially with their operating budget for this fiscal year and partly with the reserve account, an account that holds rollover money left over after each semester.

Senate polled students about the shell space as part of their annual Senate Week initiative. The survey received over a hundred responses and asked the question "Which of the following aspects of the Carnegie Mellon experience are most underserved by existing campus facilities?" The most popular answer was "collaborative study," followed closely by "dining."

Senate took the results of the poll and decided to move forward with the idea of a lounge and study space. Recently, Senate established a Shell Space Committee that will determine the specific furnishings and interior of the yet-unbuilt space.

Although Senate plans to use the shell space in way that benefits the student body at large, the process by which they acquired the space is questionable. The office of the Dean of Student Affairs Gina Casalegno and the office of the Vice President of Campus Affairs Michael Murphy gave Senate and the GSA first priority on bidding for the shell space; no other student organizations had a chance to bid on the space. This method of allocating the space, combined with Senate's generous JFC funding, gave student government an undue amount of influence on the construction of the expanded CUC.

Senate also spent $50,000 that could have been allocated to improve the Carnegie Mellon student experience in other ways. Although they polled students on what they would like to see the shell space used for, Senate did not consider their constituents — undergraduate students — when they purchased the space.

The university's administration, rather than furnishing the shell space themselves, farmed the task out to Student Government in a way that neglected the student body's needs and the properly democratic process that should be part of the university's dealings.