VSA deserves recognition for work toward transparency

In recent years, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) set a goal to increase the amount of transparency between itself and the Vassar student body. The VSA has already made significant changes to its operations in the name of transparency so far. Because of these progressions, The Miscellany News recognizes and applauds the VSA’s efforts toward promoting a more informed constituency; Standing Committees now have liaisons, the body’s procedure is more friendly to students inserting their voices into Council meetings and the VSA has begun contributing to The Miscellany News’s Opinions Section as another form of communication outlet.

We encourage the VSA to maintain their efforts to widen transparency with their activities. However, the VSA could still improve how it broadcasts information on committee meeting times, how to contact Joint Committee representatives and how it employs its Twitter feed and website.

The VSA has implemented a few new and helpful programs to increase transparency between itself and the Vassar community. Although all VSA Standing Committees, with the exception of the Finance Committee, are open to the public, very few students have the time or ability to attend these meetings regularly and use them as a resource to stay informed. The VSA, however, is working to make these Standing Committees and the resources they offer more accessible—even for those who cannot physically attend. For example, the Academic and Finance Committees now have Committee Liaisons assigned to VSA organizations. Academic liaisons help student organizations with maintaining their certification status on campus. For preliminary organizations, the liaisons assist with the process to become a certified VSA organization.

Finance Committee liaisons, meanwhile, allow organizations to discuss applying for funds in a more casual, one-on-one environment. This will help clarify financing procedures and practices for organizations.

In addition, VSA members are working hard to make their weekly council meetings more accessible to any students who attend them. While the VSA operates runs itself in a style of Roberts Rules of Order, a rulebook which designates official procedures for discussion and debate, they have changed some of their rules to promote clarity and accessibility. Moreover, the rules are explained by the President at the opening of each meeting. Now, students who attend the VSA meetings will have a better understanding of how the student government at Vassar is run—how and who to approach should students have any questions, comments or concerns. Beyond this, students who attend VSA meetings are now pushed to the front of the speaker’s list and designated as “at-large” members. Discussion begins with their concerns and questions, bringing them to the forefront.

The VSA has also engaged with The Miscellany News to further distribute information to students on what happens during open council meetings. VSA President Deb Steinberg and the VSA Executive Board have published updates on the VSA in The Misc Opinions Section. We encourage more members of the VSA Council to write for The Miscellany News and keep their constituents informed on projects, ideas and goals for the community

Despite the VSA’s progress in expanding transparency, more improvements remain. Though the meeting times for Council and Standing Committees are set in stone—and viewable on the VSA website and the window outside of the College Center—the times are not widely distributed to the student body. The VSA must constantly disseminate this information to students, even though it is regularly visible as students enter the College Center. Students forget and the VSA must engage them. Special meetings, such as those held when the Operations Committee is reviewing applications for an appointment, meanwhile, are set at the discretion of the Committee chair. On some occasions, this leaves short notice for at-large members to schedule time or be available for special meetings they’re interested in. The VSA should offer a communal web calendar,  such as a Google calendar, to make all its public meeting times more accessible and clear. This would be especially helpful for meetings that come on short notice.

Another issue is how few students know how to contact their representatives to the College’s various Joint Committees to express any concerns or questions. Joint Committees, which operate outside of the VSA Council, are collectively comprised of Vassar students, faculty and administrators. These committees govern important decisions regarding topics such as admissions, financial aid, college policy and sustainability. Joint Committees then relay their important decisions to the Council—decisions that impact not only students, but the Vassar community at large.

Despite both the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid and the Committee on College Life having elected representatives from each class, their visibility is limited as the VSA does not mandate policies for these elected committee members to communicate with constituents about activities such as holding office hours. After election season ends, these students are, unfortunately, often forgotten by their constituents. The VSA must better publicize their contact information for the general body’s use. If the VSA hopes to increase transparency, it must better broadcast these positions and their importance to the campus. In addition, consistent use of the Council’s Twitter account and website—rather than relying on outlets like The Miscellany News—will direct important information to constituents in a more timely, clear manner.

Nurturing a more informed Vassar community is important; the VSA must be more accessible and less daunting to approach in the eyes of its roughly 2,400 constituents. The VSA Council’s efforts to expand transparency in recent months have been effective, but their remains untapped potential for more successful two-way communication. We look forward to seeing the VSA continue to foster transparency in the months to come.

 

—The Staff Editorial represents the opinion of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.

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