Wesleyan Student Assembly Announces Cash “X-Prizes” for Sustainability

Last Sunday, the WSA approved a resolution to create the X-Prize Competition: a contest to come up with innovative new ideas for improving sustainability on campus. Sponsored by SBC Chair R. Chris Goy and myself, the competition will award one first-place team $3,000 and another second place team $2,000 for the best proposals to save money and the environment. The University’s budget deficit and carbon footprint hopefully will be reduced thanks to the brilliant concepts we know our student body is capable of generating.

The contest will be judged by a 5-member panel of faculty and administrators: VP for University Relations Barbara-Jan Wilson, VP for Finance John Meerts, Earth and Environmental Studies Department Chair Barry Chernoff, Associate VP for Facilities Joyce Topshe, and Sustainability Director Bill Nelligan. These members of the faculty, staff and administration will evaluate the work based on its environmental impact, feasibility, and cost-effectiveness. They will make a great team and I’m happy they’ve decided to work on this project.

But most of all, the WSA needs you. Students may compete in teams (consisting of at least three members) and will submit written reports (between one and five pages) to wesleyanxprize@gmail.com before spring break. This is a contest in which all sorts of minds must work together––environmentalists with economists, scientists with sociologists. Everyone, from fraternity brothers to artists to physics majors to athletes are encouraged to submit. After all, if saving the earth and ending the budget crisis are not ample motivations, we have 3,000 other reasons for you to change your mind.

Look for the formal announcement in The Argus soon. The WSA is very excited about the X-Prize Competition for Sustainability. We can’t wait for you to be too.

52 Comments »Announcements, News

Search Stoppage: No Fire Safety Inspections This Spring!

Over the last few months, WSA representatives have been at the table with top administrators over the issue of intrusive Fire Safety searches, some of which resulted in student arrests last semester. As a result, Fire Safety will halt the process of room inspections this spring.

Since Fire Safety completed their room searches for the year (which requires going to every dorm on campus) during the first semester, there is no need for them to continue to enter student residences (although we have been told that “problematic areas” with past violations may be subject to re-inspection).

Easing the burden of Fire Safety fines has been a top priority for the WSA. Our efforts have resulted in the creation of the Fire Safety & Facilities Appeals Board, which has a student majority, last year. In the fall semester alone the Appeals Board returned $3,650 of inappropriate fines to students.

Last year’s new Fire Safety seminars have also been incredibly successful. By attending a one hour seminar students can receive $100 off of their fine. In addition, the WSA has worked with Fire Safety to ensure that confiscated items are retrievable at the end of the academic year and to provide students smoking on balconies a warning rather than a fine.

Last year Fire Safety was convinced not to search closets or drawers unless there is evidence of an imminent life safety hazard and also agreed that a student who claims responsibility for a violation in a common space and has the same violation in hir personal room will not be charged twice.

Although a lot of improvements have been made, there is still much that can be done. This semester the WSA will continue to work to improve Fire Safety policy. We hope to lower fines and ensure that inspections intrude less upon students’ privacy. It is important that Fire Safety treats students and their spaces with respect, and we will do everything in our power to make that happen.

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Tonight’s General Assembly: Discussion of the Shortened Exam/Reading Week

(crossposted at Wesleying)

Tonight, at 7pm in Usdan 108, the WSA will discuss the shortened exam/reading week schedule that was put in place last semester and determine what’s best for students as we negotiate the academic calendar with administrators. Did it help or interfere with your ability to get your work done?

Please drop by to share your thoughts.

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Welcome Back!

By now, all but the last stragglers returning from the presidential inauguration should be back on campus. Whether or not you got enough sleep over break, it’s time to embrace the new semester.

In many ways, we’re all in the same boat. Drop/add, enrollment holds, grocery shopping, the trip to Broad Street or Amazon.com – we all face a common set of challenges that the beginning of each new semester.  Others might face more unique challenges – new housing, a new major, and for transfer students, a new school.

We’d just like to remind you that the WSA is here to help you through times like these, which we know can be stressful as you seek to navigate the Wesleyan bureaucracy. It’s times like these when we stumble upon aspects of the Wesleyan experience that are ripe for improvement. We ask that you take the time now to contact us with your questions, concerns, and suggestions while they are still fresh in your mind.

Visit our website at http://www.wesleyan.edu/wsa, email us at wsa@wesleyan.edu, or even fill out the form to request a visit from a WSA visit in your dorm hall or student group meeting at http://www.wesleyan.edu/wsa/repvisit.

We are here for you – come talk to us so we can fight for you.

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Is There A “Triple Threat”? Further Thoughts on Roth’s Proposed Expansion

When Michael Roth came to the WSA to discuss the class expansion issue, I found myself pondering an anecdote my father told me when I was looking at colleges. A resident of blue-collar Akron, Ohio, my father was fortunate enough to attend a small liberal arts school of around 1,500 students. One day, he caught up with a fellow high school classmate who attended the massive Ohio State University and asked, “Isn’t it kind of intimidating to attend a school with 35,000 students?” His classmate just shrugged.

“Your circle of friends and acquaintances is around forty people at the most, right?” he asked my father, who nodded. “Mine is too. The only difference is I have more people to ignore.” With that in mind, I do not believe that the expansion will affect most students on a day-to-day basis.

Don’t get me wrong––I don’t want Wesleyan to become Ohio State by any means. I’m not in favor of the expansion. However, I also do not feel right opposing it yet. I think more information should be made available on the matter, as does most of the WSA. How exactly will the proposed expansion affect housing for all four years? Wes students deserve to know.

I anticipate that the endowment losses will get much worse over the next four years. I hate to say it, but I fully expect every budget to be cut in one way or another, including financial aid. I view financial aid as the “sacred cow” of Wesleyan’s budget: the student body cannot let it be hurt in any way.

I’ve had discussions with friends who pay full tuition. Some will be forced to become financial aid candidates for the next year. At this critical time, choosing the right battles becomes an important part of the WSA’s efforts to keep a Wesleyan education an affordable and rich experience. As of now, I see that an attitude of ambivalence towards expansion to be the prudent thing to do.

Preserving financial aid is the front line in this fight. The $15.5 million in budget cuts has to come from somewhere––if we cannot increase revenue, the money will come out of what we hold the most dear about our school––financial aid, and faculty salaries. When thinking of cuts, we must be selfless enough to know that individual comfort can afford to be slightly compromised for the good of economic justice in financial aid policy.

While the WSA works to inform the administration on what budget cuts students would find most unacceptable, I feel that expansion, while certainly not a good thing, may be a necessary last resort. Yes, there would be a housing crunch that would lead to uncomfortable living for a few years. The rooms that would be tripled would be cramped. Bradley Spahn, our indefatigable coordinator, has expounded on several flaws inherent in triple rooms in his own recent post.

In addition to Bradley’s concerns about changes to the quality of student life, I have friends in triples at other schools who have experienced what I call the “2:1 Effect.” Inevitably, the two roommates most similar to each other will gang up on the third roommate whenever an unresolved issue arises. Triples aren’t always fun. They increase one’s potential for a jerk roommate by 50 percent, after all.

But then again, roommates can bicker  in a double as well. Students can be miserable in a single, even a spacious one. The quality and personality of the accepted students matters, not the rooms in which they live together. Boarding at college is always a mixed bag that requires students to exercise maturity and flexibility. But aren’t those two skills invaluable in life? Negotiating difficult situations with a roommate (or two) today will teach tomorrow’s activists, artists, businesspeople and politicians how to cooperate with people they cannot stand but must get along with for the common good.

I also do not agree with the argument that intellectual connections would be negatively affected by tripling. Intellectual energy and discourse on campus is an almost hormonal force––it will work its way out of a student no matter what. If we lose intellectually vigorous discussion in dormitory rooms, then perhaps it will appear in laundry rooms, student lounges, and Usdan tables instead. Wesleyan students are too curious not to find a way to talk about what fascinates them. We’re too good to let triples kill our desire for truth.

To put it bluntly: yes, triples suck. But being forced out of Wesleyan because one cannot afford to pay their tuition bills is even worse. If you were to ask any student whose heart is fully set on Wesleyan whether they would rather live in a triple or not attend at all, they would likely choose that triple without hesitation. Wesleyan students at large should embrace that feeling of sacrifice and be open to making the toughest choices of them all––knowing what to give up for the greater good and how to do it.  If that means letting the school expand by 30 students per class, so be it.

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A Response to Roth on the Enrollment Increase

As I think the WSA made clear to you during your very helpful presentation two weeks ago, the most important question in regards to an enrollment increase is how this enrollment increase would affect the residential component of student life. I know this is a question that’s already being looked into, but I’d urge care on everyone’s part in examining how this would affect the personal, social, and intellectual well-being of future frosh classes in particular.

Because older students choose their housing first, many frosh would end up sharing one room between three people or have two two students packed into what is now a single. Jamming students in like this would have a really detrimental impact on student life, making minor disturbances like a student having a cold or an out of town guest staying overnight very disruptive to student’s lives.

At first blush these might seem like minor inconveniences students would have to suffer, but they really would have a negative impact on campus life at Wesleyan. Students at other schools, lacking the room to socialize in their own rooms with their peers, are forced to engage in the kind of large anonymous events that are much more common elsewhere. Wesleyan’s residential system cultivates the kind of social skills that have served our alums very well upon leaving Wes because it encourages real intellectual engagement between students.  This is the kind of engagement that can happen in a living room or a single, but is much harder at the huge parties that would take hold when frosh are forced out of their own buildings to socialize.

When being courteous to a sleeping roommate extinguishes those discussions or forces socializing into an impersonal setting, these genuine gains get lost for budgetary gain.  Our residential facilities aren’t set up to accommodate this large influx of students.  Dormitory lounges are rarely used for socializing, instead being often taken up by group meetings and arts rehearsals.  The Butterfield hallways, where most new students will be housed, aren’t big enough to congregate in, thus leaving students without places to gather and collaborate.

This is a tough time for Wesleyan financially, as it is for our country, and hard sacrifices must be made by everyone, students included. That said, I’d urge you, your cabinet, and the board of trustees to pay close attention to these issues before moving forward with a student increase. Should such a move go forward, I’d hope that residential policies evolve accordingly to deal with the issues created by such an increase.

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WSA bureaucracy leave you scratching your head?

Check out this organizational chart I put together the other night while dealing with the aftermath of a flooded laundry machine.

Each WSA member belongs to one of six “core” committees (blue). For example, the SBC and the Student Affairs Committee are core committees of the WSA. Most of the other various committees you may read or hear about, such as the Transportation Committee or the Dining Committee, are actually departmental/advisory subcommittees (yellow). We are also connected in various ways to committees controlled by the administration (red), jointly-controlled committees (purple), and external constitutionally-mandated standing committees that we are only indirectly connected to (light blue).

This is of course in no ways a complete project and may indeed create even more confusion (and possibly some controversy), but in the sake of transparency I wanted to post it to the blog (and also the website, under the Committees section).

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Roth Answers Questions on Budget Alignment

Tonight President Michael Roth answered questions from the WSA and members of the student body on the state of the University’s finances. With $15.5 million in budget cuts and revenue enhancements looming on the horizon, discussion focused around President Roth’s proposal to realize $3.9 million in new revenue by temporarily increasing the student body by 30 students per class year, or 120 students over 4 years.

WSA President Mike Pernick ’10, WSA Vice-President Saul Carlin ’09, and members of the WSA Student Affairs Committee expressed concern that Roth’s proposal will exacerbate the school’s housing crunch, forcing frosh intro triples and eventually reducing the amount of class-appropriate housing available for upperclassmen. President Roth argued that a class-size increase of 30 may not be significantly more hard-felt than the normal yearly fluctuation in class sizes (+22 last year), and that first- or second-choice housing may not be essential to the Wesleyan student experience.

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Tell us your stories

Everybody has heard the stories.  Stories of bad things happening.  “A PSafe officer was rude and nasty when he came to my house last night.”  “The SJB ignored the facts and gave me a punishment that was way too harsh.”  “Fire Safety inspectors ignored their own search policies and broke into my closet to incriminate me.”  These are terrible, terrible incidents, and they must be stopped at all costs.


Stories are one thing, but telling your story to your friend won’t get change.  Unfortunately, complaining to an administrator or supervisor won’t always get results either.  We all want to work together to make sure that these sorts of incidents don’t happen, but actually rooting out problems like this is a difficult task.


The WSA is uniquely suited to address these sorts of problems.  At the end of the day, we are students too.  We live in the same dorms, go to the same parties, and deal with the same people.  However, in order for us to actually make a difference on these issues, we need reliable data to work from.  We need more than secondhand accounts – we need to know what happened to you.  Only then can we push for policy change and reform to make the institution better for everyone who goes here.


Visit our incident reporting form online and tell us about how you were treated.  Tell us your story – it doesn’t matter if it happened two years ago or two weeks ago.  We have a far-reaching Code of Non-Academic Conduct, and many students are often dissatisfied with the way in which it is enforced.  Tell us about your dissatisfaction, and then we will do what we were elected to do – we’ll fight for you.

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Spahn on WSA Elections

I’ve talked before about the dual role of WSA member as representative and bureaucrat, but never in the context of the an election before. With a few exceptions, most bureaucrats are appointed to their position and not subject to election, but the WSA does thing differently. We subject people serving in bureaucratic capacities, like our SBC members, to election by the entire student body. Why? I think at the heart of it, it’s about outreach.

By forcing our representatives, no matter what role they may serve, to go out and meet students and learn about what their fellow students are doing on campus it helps bring the WSA closer to the community. I certainly can’t say that the WSA is always perfectly attune to the opinions student body, but the elections process does help that process along.

As the WSA Coordinator, it’s my job to facilitate the elections process, and a part of that is encouraging campaigning.  As we saw last fall, there’s no better form of outreach than a vigorous campaign.

56 Comments »Opinion

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