Senate closes out year with committee reports, elections

On Thursday, April 27, the 2022-2023 Undergraduate Student Senate met for the last time to give committee reports and vote on their executive committee for the next year. They also heard a Special Allocations request.

The meeting opened with a Special Allocations request from Carnegie Mellon Racing, who requested $7,200 to pay for uprights for the racecar that the organization builds. One of the organization’s sponsors pulled their funding part way through the year, which made the cost unexpected. The funding was passed by the Senate 18-0-3.

The Advocacy Committee, chaired by Jeanie Xu, were the first to give their report. Some of their initiatives this year included working with the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) to increase voter engagement on campus, continuing and closing their mental health overview initiative on campus, and looking into raising awareness of Pennsylvania SNAP benefits for students who are food insecure.

As part of their future efforts, the Advocacy Committee in collaboration with University Health Services plans to pilot two emergency contraceptives vending machines on campus to make sexual health resources more accessible. They also plan on reaching out to organizations that are underrepresented in Student Government to try and increase representation in the student government process.

The next committee to present their work was the Business Affairs committee, chaired by Claire Jin. The Business Affairs committee worked to add New York Time Games to students’ current access; however, due to low readership, they will also be canceling the USA Today subscription next year. They also continued their initiative to provide more access to outlets around campus, including outlet stands and more outlets in the rotunda area above Kirr Commons in the Cohon University Center. Some of the ongoing initiatives and discussions within the Business Affairs committee revolves around transportation on campus and working with Carnegie Mellon Dining.

The third report was from the Campus Life Committee, which was chaired by Victoria Liu. This past year, the committee was responsible for Team Tartan Tailgating during the football season, the Senate Strip Crawl, and running the First Lectures series. They plan to continue these initiatives in the future while also potentially hosting an ice skate night at PPG Place and establishing a partnership with the Carnegie Mellon Police Department.

The next presentation came from the Finance Committee, which was chaired by Kyle Hynes. As of April 27, the combination of all Senate accounts has $422,777.08. The Senate Agency account had $101,887.91, though it is expected to have a deficit of roughly $33,000 by the end of the year due to many expenses not being processed yet. This deficit will come out of the Senate Reserve, which currently has $126,298.73. The third account is the Media Fee account, which currently has $194,371.42. The account collects roughly $69,000 each year in media fees, but only about $37,000 is spent. Hynes said that addressing how to spend the Media Fee account funds should be a priority for next year’s session of the Senate. The last point was in regards to Special Allocations; the budget for Special Allocations was increased to $72,000 in January. The Finance Committee received requests totaling $164,284 for Special Allocations, and a total of $65,678 was approved (40 percent of requests).

The next committee to present was the Governmental Affairs Committee, which was co-chaired by Hynes and Senate President Prithu Pareek. The committee was started in November 2022 to give the Senate a voice in legislative affairs. The committee hosted a series of town halls at Carnegie Mellon, including Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Pittsburgh Councilwoman Erika Strassburger. Five of the committee members also traveled to Washington, DC to advocate for current bills relating to topics such as education policy. The Governmental Affairs Committee was merged into the Advocacy Committee earlier this month, where the work will be carried on.

The Operations Committee, chaired by Saloni Gandhi, presented next. The Operations Committee was responsible for creating Senate merchandise, increasing Senate Week to four days, and increasing Senate Instagram engagement. Moving forward, the committee aims to host Senate Socials, posting Senate Spotlights to the Senate’s social media, and further improving Senate Week.

The final committee to present was the Academic Affairs Committee, chaired by Mason Xiao. The committee gave out $18,355.16 as part of the OLR/Arts fund, which covers the costs of course materials for students. The committee is also discussing a series of initiatives. The first is regarding course fees — an idea the committee has is to charge students a materials fee for classes that need it, and the unused portion of this is refunded at the end of the semester. The Academic Affairs Committee has also been working with the Calendar Innovation Committee to analyze the effectiveness of the “7-1-7” calendar model that Carnegie Mellon has moved to. They are also looking into what they call “J term,” which would make it so students have January off to work on personal projects and student initiatives.

The final presentation of the 2022-2023 Senate was from Pareek, who gave the State of the Senate presentation. He highlighted many of the overall Senate initiatives from the year. The first was increased communication with constituents, such as emailing the entire undergraduate body, doubling the Senate Instagram following, and commenting on issues relevant to the student body.

The Senate also worked with GSA to help register votes on campus, provided voting resources to students, and put forth a resolution for a Day of Service Holiday on Election Day; next year, students will have most of the election day off in celebration of Democracy Day. Senate also worked with administration on raising the campus minimum wage and restructuring student government, including dissolving the offices of Student Body President and Student Body Vice President.

Pareek also highlighted many future initiatives for the Senate. These included reforming the Media Fee and how it is spent, better engaging with the undergraduate student body, and focusing more on diversity initiatives within the Senate.

Following Pareek’s presentation, the 2022-2023 Senate adjourned for the last time and the 2023-2024 Senate convened for the first time. The main focus of this meeting was to elect a new Senate President and executive committee.

The first election was for Senate President, where two candidates were running: Hynes and Senator Ethan Johnson. After both candidates gave speeches, the Senate voted for Hynes to serve as Senate President.

Following this, the Senate heard speeches from candidates for other executive committee positions and voted for the following candidates: Mahitha Chaturvedula for Operations Chair, Silas Wang for Academic Affairs, Johnson for Advocacy, Jin for Business Affairs, Gloria Lee for Campus Life, and Medha Palavalli for Finance.

After elections, the Senate adjourned; they will meet again at the beginning of the 2023-2024 academic year.