Students Petition For More CAS Board Representation

Photo By Andrew Wyrich

For some SUNY New Paltz students, six to four is not an even score.

For the second time this year, student leaders are advocating for more student representation on the Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS) Board.

A student-led petition, which currently has more than 400 signatures, has been circulated by members of the student senate, piggybacking off two points of legislation supporting the increase in board members passed by the student senate earlier this year.

“We have been trying to do our best to educate students as much as possible because a lot of students don’t know what the CAS Board is,” student senator Rebecca Berlin said. “In total we have 400 signatures, but that’s not where we want to be, we want to be at 1,000 at least.”

Last semester, student members of the CAS Board hoped to add two more students to the body – bumping the total number of students on the board to six – in order to bring the number of students on the board to the maximum allotment allowed as per the CAS Board guidelines.

During a meeting on Sept. 19 of last year, the board voted down the motion for more student members by a vote of 6 to 4, citing dilution of administrators and faculty and staff’s votes as reasoning for being against it.

Vice President of Enrollment Management L. David Eaton said the board’s current configuration prohibited “hijacking” of the board from any group at the September meeting.

However, CAS Board Member and student senator Roberto LoBianco said while he understands the concerns the members brought up earlier this year, he thinks the time has come for a full push toward having the maximum amount of student representation on the board.

“It’s intimidating to have one group control that number of seats,” LoBianco said. “But students disagree amongst each other too. So the argument of it becoming a voting block, which was the biggest one last time, doesn’t apply.”

Student senator Sadie Godlis, who has spearheaded the petition project with Berlin, said student support has been unanimous for the increase in student board members, and she hopes that a large amount of student support will sway the board into voting in the other direction.

However, while student support for the increase has been overwhelming, the reaction from other CAS Board members and campus administration has been tepid.

President Donald Christian said he has “mixed feelings” about an increase in student representation on the board because the CAS Board requires continuity to function properly.  If students graduate and move on from the board each year, the ability to teach them how the board functions becomes increasingly difficult, Christian said.

“It’s difficult for students who sit on the board for one or two years to really get up to speed to the intricacies of those decisions,” Christian said. “I think as a general rule bodies like that, that have ongoing responsibilities, clearly need a student voice. But whether that voice should be a majority is where I have major concerns.”

In addition, Christian said it is easy for those on the board to get caught up “in the heat of the moment” and advocate for things CAS Board members shouldn’t necessarily be advocating for.

“We did surveys last year of students interests in what students want to see in food service,” Christain said. “We heard about cost, quality, choice and flexibility. My impression this past year, is that the advocates for those particular values – that we knew from studies that students wanted – were the administrative members on the CAS board.”

Student Association (SA) President, and CAS Board Member Josh Simpson said the argument over continuity was “ridiculous,” and contradicts his position on the board – which is automatically given to the SA President.

“I have no experience or background knowledge on how the board is run,” Simpson said.  “If the issue of continuity was something that was actually relevant, I feel like the current system wouldn’t allow for someone like myself to be just given a seat.”

Berlin and Godlis agreed with Simpson. While students might graduate and those sitting on the board might shift, it is important that students have a majority say in what occurs on campus, Godlis said.

“At the end of the day, I pay to be here and they are paid to be here,” Godlis said. “So, I feel like I should have a say in the decisions they make and they should want me to agree with the decisions they make. I don’t see how adding more students to the board effects continuity, but [it] opens up the possibility for more dialogue between the students and those who have been here to come to a place of common understanding.”

Berlin said the argument that the student population is transient was not something she thought had merit.

“If that is really what the argument is, does that mean we don’t get to have a say in anything? This is a college with 8,000 students, to say we are a transient population and because of that we don’t get to have the representatives we need and have a say what goes on here on this campus doesn’t make sense.”

While no decision was made at the CAS Board meeting on May 8, Simpson said the work Berlin and Godlis are putting into the petition will only grow stronger as they continue to inform students on what they want.

“I don’t know a student in their right mind who wouldn’t want another student to represent them,” Simpson said. “Hopefully this will lead to a more informed student body. It’s very frustrating because of the lack of knowledge students have about what the CAS Board does and what they have been doing – yet they were so quick to throw their fists in the air for something they didn’t fully understand. I hope that more students on the board will help educate more.”

Berlin and Godlis said they hope more student pressure will lead the CAS Board to vote on more representation next semester.