The Tribune editorial board sat down this week with new Marquette Student Government President Meghan Ladwig and Executive Vice President Joey Ciccone.
Our meeting highlighted some items on their agenda that we loved, and others on which we wanted to see more concrete plans.
Overall, we were impressed by their competency with current issues in student government, their rational personalities and their priority to inform students in order to empower them on the issues taken up by MUSG.
They’re taking up a torch that was lit for them by former President Henry Thomas and Executive Vice President Stephanie Stopka — and we like where this torch is going.
When Thomas and Stopka met with the editorial board early in the fall semester, the leaders stressed that campus safety was their number one priority, and their close second was increasing transparency and two-way communication with students.
Both seem to have improved, the latter most notably and as a direct result of their administration and staff.
The Thomas-Stopka administration marked something of a turning point in MUSG operations.
Previous MUSG administrations had students’ concerns and interests in mind, but none in this editorial board’s memory have so actively pursued student input and yielded such results.
While Thomas said his greatest achievement as president was passing legislation approving initial studies into a new fitness building for students, we at the Tribune are most thankful for his willingness to speak openly about issues in the Senate and the standard his administration set for communicating with the student body, thanks also in large part to Communications Vice President Lauren Lakomek.
It’s a standard we hope will be adopted by Ladwig and Ciccone, and our meeting suggests it will be. Their campaign platform included plans to work intensively with student media to keep students informed about discussions and initiatives underway in MUSG.
Their ideas included the possible creation of an “MUSG-span” that would broadcast Senate meetings via MUTV.
Getting the rest of students up to speed with pressing campus issues is a necessary first step in promoting student involvement in MUSG, which has historically been abysmal.
Below, we itemize our views on Ladwig-Ciccone’s various policies, plans and platforms. Some reasons for concern were raised following our meeting.
Their commitment to communication is important, but we hope they recognize that communication is a means to an end, and shouldn’t be valued higher than action.
Also, we urge them to scrutinize what administrators tell them in various meetings and to not accept wholesale all they are told. But they stressed in our meeting that they will research proposals to ensure that policy is actually for students’ benefit in all cases.
Most importantly, Ladwig and Ciccone understand what Thomas and Stopka did before them — that in a private school environment, student government only carries weight when it has the student body’s support.
The way to achieve this is to engage students outside the system, inform them on relevant issues and options available to them and garner support so that when legislation is passed, administrators know it is representative of a collective campus opinion.
Although the Senate hasn’t followed through on its earlier recommendation that the university drop its contract with Sodexo, Ladwig and Ciccone say the recommendation was the right decision and has garnered favorable results for students.
Ladwig said administrators didn’t respond to earlier complaints about the food service on campus, and this legislation made them take complaints seriously.
She and Ciccone said the original intent of the recommendation was to actually get the contract dropped, but the new mission is to see if Sodexo can be improved to students’ liking.
While events like Monday’s Sodexo forum show an increased effort to gather student input on how to improve campus dining, Ladwig and Ciccone shouldn’t be satisfied with only more talk of the issue.
Administrators have announced that they plan to make changes to Mashuda, Straz and McCormick dining halls, but these changes will not necessarily address students’ primary complaints — pricing, food quality and healthy or alternative dining options. Ciccone said the improvements surfaced only after the recommendation passed, but destination dining proposals like 50s style food at Mashuda and organic cuisine in Straz have been considered by Sodexo and the university for years. We urge MUSG’s leaders to demand answers to students’ questions regarding Sodexo, particularly those related to pricing, and to call out so-called improvements that won’t actually increase student satisfaction.
For the first time ever, MUSG has requested a budget surpassing a half million dollars. This is due to a larger population of students, all of whom contribute to the student activity fund. Also, demand for quality campus events and reputable speakers requires a larger events commission budget.
With a larger Student Organization Allocation fund, more organizations and student sports teams will be able to access the available pie of funding. Ladwig said she has made it her mission to ensure organizations understand how to apply for SOA funding, that they get more of the funding and that the funding be used in accordance with student interests.
Funding has typically been reserved for on-campus programming, but Ladwig thinks that with favorable opinions of events like MARDI GRAS and MAP trips, exceptions might be made for off-campus programs. We agree that programs like these are a core part of many students’ Marquette experiences, and we would like to see SOA allocations support them.
Transparency and Student Input
The Ladwig-Ciccone campaign platform included using Student Media outlets to inform campus on current issues under debate in the MUSG Senate so they can use MUSG as a tool to voice their concerns. Other plans include weekly focus sessions in which senators or committees from specific areas listen to constituents on given topics, such as off-campus housing, environmental efforts, etc.
Given low student participation in student government and elections, we agree that the best way to get students involved is to make providing input as easy and focused as possible and keep the student body as up to date on the issues as possible. Once students believe they can use MUSG to address their needs, they’ll see it as a viable institution.
Gaining approval to release portions of the results of course evaluations to students has been a much-lauded accomplishment within MUSG. Proponents, like Ladwig and Ciccone, say along with posting course syllabi and major/minor requirements online, this will help students make informed decisions about their course selection.
But in actuality, what was approved is not the evaluation data from students’ course evaluation forms about individual courses, but aggregate data about all courses provided by a college. Students will only be able to see how satisfied students are by courses offered by a given college overall.
That is, information will be made public about how satisfied students are overall with courses offered by, say, the College of Health Sciences or the College of Business Administration.
This does not help students pick their classes. In a major program, they’ll still need to take classes predominantly from one college and will have no more information about which electives or which professors will best meet their interests.
Ciccone said although this isn’t ideal, it’s a step in the right direction. Still, we are far from satisfied.
Ladwig and Ciccone should not settle until much more relevant data is released.