Student Senate update

“What does Student Senate do?” is one of the most common questions that members of Senate are asked. In the past, Senate has not been as connected as we could be to the 7,000 students who compose the undergraduate community at Carnegie Mellon University. This has been even more challenging in a year where we have not been able to convene in person, and our university community has been scattered across different time zones around the world. So this semester, we want to try new ways of reaching students to provide updates on our initiatives, and — most importantly — to allow for your input. This week, we want to provide a quick recap of some of Senate’s work last fall, some plans for the semester ahead, and how to become a member of Senate this semester.

Last semester, our Academic Affairs committee distributed $1,899 from our budget to students to cover the costs of required course resources that are not covered by financial aid (some examples include software subscriptions and art supplies). Months of discussion between the committee and university leadership led to the implementation of permanent Pass/No Pass vouchers. Simultaneously, our Advocacy committee has been conducting a survey to examine the changes to course learning structures and student accommodations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how these may be changed in the long term to ensure equal accessibility in courses. The Advocacy committee is still collecting responses from students in preparation for making recommendations to the university this semester, and you can share your experiences here. During the Fall semester, the Advocacy committee also pushed for the addition of a question covering inclusive environments to course evaluations.

In spring 2020, the Business Affairs committee started to look at the issues with student employment at Carnegie Mellon and held a town hall for student employees last April. In December, the committee finished their white paper on the issue, revealing student wages which lag behind our peer universities and systemic issues with workplace culture, which we will spend the rest of this semester working with the university to address (you can sign the white paper here). The Business Affairs committee has also been working to gauge student opinion on all-gender housing at Carnegie Mellon (this survey is still open, and you can contribute here) and with Carnegie Mellon University’s Parking & Transportation Services to improve our school’s shuttle and escort services.

Throughout the Fall semester, we hosted numerous public discussions at our general body meetings: with senior university leadership, including President Jahanian; with the leaders of Carnegie Mellon University’s COVID-19 coordinating team; with Housing Services; and our Finance committee organized Senate’s first-ever town hall on university finances and financial aid. During the summer, the Finance committee provided funding to Carnegie Mellon students or organizations who took on projects aimed at social and racial justice, and in November, the committee helped assist students who volunteered as poll workers for the 2020 election.

Our meetings, every Thursday at 5:20 p.m., are open to anyone at Carnegie Mellon University. If you aren’t able to attend, notes from previous meetings are always available online. Throughout this spring, we will continue to announce the topics of upcoming meetings a few days in advance on our social media (you can follow us on Instagram @cmusenate!).

This semester, we are continuing our fund to help with the costs of course resources — you can apply here — and will find more ways to use our resources to directly support fellow students. We are also considering more ways to utilize the media fee to make the campus experience better. The Academic Affairs committee is also beginning a new long-term initiative to examine grading policies at Carnegie Mellon. Every April, our Campus Life committee hosts First Lectures, a program which, in the spirit of Dr. Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture, selects six graduating seniors to give a “first lecture” on their time at Carnegie Mellon (If you know anyone who you think would be a good First Lectures speaker, you can nominate them!). Campus Life is also continuing its work to bring outdoor charging stations to campus.

However, much of what Senate will work on this spring has not been planned already and will be shaped throughout the semester by our members. This is why it’s very important we have as many members as we possibly can! At our meeting this Thursday, Feb. 18, we will be holding elections to fill our vacant seats. We welcome anyone to run to represent their home college as a Senator and bring their perspective on how we can help change our school for the better (we have the most vacant seats in the College of Fine Arts and Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, so we especially encourage candidates from those schools!). You can find more information about vacancy elections, and how to be a candidate, on our website. This coming semester will undoubtedly pose new challenges for all of us — and so that Senate can be truly representative of our community, and productive at addressing campus issues, we want to fill all of our vacant seats this semester.

Finally, if you experience any issues this semester which we may be able to help with or have any thoughts at all on how we can help the university community, feel free to contact the chairs of Senate’s committees or your college’s representatives. The initiatives mentioned here aren’t an exhaustive list — you are welcome to reach out to any of Senate’s committees to find out more about their work. And you don’t have to be a member of Senate to contribute your ideas! Whether you are joining the university community from Pittsburgh or elsewhere, we hope you have a safe and healthy Spring semester.