Starting a new student government/ council?
Student governance has many implications for higher education at Columbia University. If shared governance is truly a tenant of higher education, the student government serves as the student voice in that model and implies a role of students in the decisions made by the university. The legacy of a university is its students and thus, it is important for the university to ensure that legacy is a strong one. As the student government is the voice of students, universities can rely on the student government to ensure the student campus-experience is a satisfying and fulfilling one. Additionally, if Columbia's goal is to nurture and develop future civic leaders and engaged citizens, there is not a better place to do so than through a representative student government, teaching and conferring skills and leadership traits that one will need later on in life.
An evolved student government can help your school (or subset of a school) recruit new students, retain existing students, and improve student and alumni involvement. A strong, effective, efficient, and competent student voice is critical to the overall health of any higher-education institution.
A representative student government should always attempt to attain the following:
- A student-governance organization with leaders whom are popularly elected by a majority or representatives of the student body
- Administrators and trustees should recognize the group as the official student voice.
- The student government must be "institutionalized", meaning the administration must consider the student government body to be indispensable, critical parts of the higher-education experience and should include student governance in their overall mission statements and goals.
- The student government should operate as independently and autonomously as possible. They must have the right to succeed or fail on their own, without fear of reprisal by administrators, except in the case of fraud, embezzlement, or other illegal activities.
- The student government should be as fiscally autonomous as possible. Their annual budgets ideally should be based on a portion of student fees generated by tuition revenues. Budgets should only be impacted positively or negatively based on the institution’s enrollment growth or decline, and absolutely should not be impacted by administrative decree, whims, or needs.
- The student government should be the one choosing their advisors, not the other way around. An advisor should understand that their role is one of a helper, teacher, and information resource, not a dictator. The student government should expect these advisors to reasonably advocate on behalf of the student government.
- The student government should be provided with spacious, convenient, and clean on-campus office space from which to base their operations, preferably located in a major student thoroughfare.
- The student government should have a student representative and vote on decision-making committees for their population of students, including the institution’s board of trustees, regents or visitors.
Some of the roles that a student government may have include:
- Acting as a liaison and representative to the Columbia University community, including the faculty, staff, administration, alumni, other students, and the public
- Promoting the development of students' skills in leadership, program organization, promotion, communication, initiative, and self-reliance
- Gathering and expressing the opinions of all students
- Appropriately addressing student concerns
- Promoting the core values of Columbia University and your program/ school
- Supporting student clubs and organization activities and programs that benefit the student body academically, socially, intellectually, spiritually, physically, and culturally
- Supporting the development of community spirit and student involvement on campus and within the community
- Contributing to Columbia University policy changes
- Responsibly distributing and utilizing student activity and university fees to better the student experience at Columbia
- Fostering cohesiveness among all students at Columbia University
- Maintaining constant and thorough communication with the student body (transparency)
Organizing and funding campus life events
To form a student government for your school or a subset of your school's population, here are some steps and guidelines to consider taking:
- Gauge student interest in your school or subset of the school's population and find enthusiastic people to help aid and advocate in the formation of a student government
- Identify sympathetic faculty, staff, and administration to inform them of your interest in starting a student government and that you would like them to advocate for this on your behalf
- Identify students who already hold officer positions in other capacities at the University (University student Senator, IGB delegate, etc.) to get them onboard
- Get all interested parties in one room (physically or virtually) and discuss what aspects of student life this new student government should be involved with (academic issues, housing, student groups, etc.)
- Propose a student government Constitution (a couple of examples include: Columbia College Student Council, Engineering Graduate Student Council, Interdisciplinary Arts Council (School of the Arts), SIPA Student Association (SIPASA), SGA @ Barnard College)
- Propose a set of bylaws (the difference between a Constitution and bylaws is that the constitution of an organization contains the fundamental principles which govern its operation. The bylaws establish the specific rules of guidance by which the group is to function.)
- Elect and/or nominate a group of temporary officers for your new student government
- With your proposed Constitution, bylaws, duties, and temporary officers, contact your school's or program's administration and request that they sit down and discuss the recognition of your new proposed student government
- If the administration is skeptical, it may be helpful to get letters of support from your peer councils/ student governments as well as administrators from other parts of the University
- Ensure that a student representative from your government is attending and getting a vote on relevant decision-making committees
- Determine how the student government (and the clubs that you recognize, if any) will be funded (through existing student fees that are currently being held by the school or program, through proposing additional activity fees for the students *note that this will require approval by the Trustees of Columbia University, etc.)
- Determine who will be your primary advisor for logistical matters (space reservations, event planning, etc.) as well as your financial advisor (the one approving your expenses, allocating funds, etc.)
- Send out a white paper to the students you want to represent. A white paper is an authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body's philosophy on the matter. You should hold town halls so that the students can voice their opinion on the new student government. Invite them to your first general meeting.
- At your first general meeting (open to all students you are representing), ratify your proposed Constitution, bylaws, and duties. At this time, you can hold your first elections and nominations.
- Make sure you (or the officers of this new student government) inform the rest of the school and University that you now exist (let the IGB know so we can put your student government on our website!)
- Meet with as many people in your school, program, and University administration as much as possible to ensure that they are aware of the existence of this student government, for them to invite you when they have meetings that necessitate student input, and to develop connections that will ensure timely solutions to any issues that arise.
- Begin holding regular meetings and conducting duties as is defined in your bylaws and Constitution.