Restructured Student Government Poised for Success
Here at YU, we are blessed with many student government groups. As the saying goes, however, too much of anything is bad, and in past years the YU student government has been large regarding members but small regarding overall efficacy. This is part of the reason why amendments were passed to reform the student government this past May.
The student government includes many different governing bodies. The Yeshiva Student Union (YSU) represents all students at YU, both those in Yeshiva College and those in Syms. YSU is in charge of non-academic clubs, and organizes major events on campus. Yeshiva College Student Association (YCSA) is strictly for Yeshiva College. It is in charge of student clubs and provides a voice for students vis-à-vis the administration. The Sy Syms Student Council (SymsSC) serves the same function for students in the Sy Syms School of Business. Finally, SOY, the Student Organization of Yeshiva, is the undergraduate body responsible for Torah learning and religious life and activities on campus.
The first problem with the way student government was constructed last year and in years prior, was that there was no organization to coordinate between students and the administration when it came to academic issues. According to Adam Zimilover, the former President of YCSA who was instrumental in writing and passing the recent amendments, the official organization appointed by the provost to deal with academic issues, called the Student Academic Affairs Committee (SAAC), hasn’t functioned for a minimum of four years. Even when it did function, SAAC didn’t work with the Office of Student Life or the Dean’s Office, so its effectiveness was in question.
Prior to the elections last Spring for this Fall’s student government, Zimilover tried to refocus YCSA to add an academic component, enabling students to come to YCSA with classroom or curriculum issues, since, given SAAC’s defunctness, there was no practical way for them to deal with these kinds of issues.
A second major issue was that the student government of YU contained too many positions. This had two practical implications. Firstly, since there were so many seats, many students in student government didn’t actually do anything to help the government run or to address students’ needs. Having so many people on the government made event planning and approving more complicated, added YSU Vice President of Clubs, Aitan Magence.
Secondly, many of the student government positions were held by students who were elected through uncontested elections. This meant that there were student leaders in important positions who were using student activities fees—tens of thousands of dollars per year when student organization budgets are combined—when they were merely appointed to the student government by default, without having a real election or opposition.
The May amendment cut out positions that were redundant, such as the YSU Vice President, and vice presidents and treasurers for individual classes. Hezzy Jesin, the Wilf Campus Director of the Office of Student Life, commented on the reorganization of the specific class councils, saying “Folding the class councils into YSU provided a stronger, age-balanced voice on student council as well as direct access to financial resources needed for successful class-based programming.”
SOY was not without its changes as well. According to Jesin, the SOY representatives for each morning program were formerly known as presidents and are now known as vice presidents, creating a more equal representation on the SOY council. Jesin provided similar reasoning for the SOY President now potentially coming from whichever morning program has the largest number of students enrolled, as opposed to being automatically from MYP.
One of the biggest issues with the student government last year was the participation of RIETS students in SOY. According to Zimilover, RIETS students could vote in SOY and YSU until this year. Furthermore, RIETS students would attend SOY and other undergraduate religious events that were paid for with undergraduate student activity fee money, but the RIETS administration wouldn’t contribute money from the RIETS student activity fee to help pay for these events. Due in part to these issues, added Jesin, SOY clarified in the recent amendments that it is an undergraduate council made up of undergraduate students, with the explicit purpose of serving undergraduate students. The amendments to the student government that pertain to RIETS were worked on in conjunction with the RIETS administration, although, according to Zimilover, some RIETS students are unhappy about it.
As for how the amendment was passed, the old version of the YU Student Government Constitution included a clause stating that amendments could only be voted on during a general election (held each May for the following Fall). So, though Zimilover and his fellow student government members wanted to enact these amendments earlier in their tenure, they had to wait until the May general election to push their amendments forward.
This is partly why Zimilover, when asked about any regrets he has from his tenure, stated that because these changes had to be introduced in May at election time, which, he pointed out, is really a constraint of the old constitution, the amendment and restructuring process was done in a way that was very confusing for the student body. The hope is that, in the future, with the updated constitution, things will be clearer.
This brings us to this year’s restructured student government, led by YSU President Natan Szegedi, YCSA President Shai Berman, SymSSC President Leo Korman, and SOY President Jacob Bernstein. In the past, different members of the student government communicated with different classes or clubs. This year, YSU is debuting a streamlined process for communicating with student clubs and classes. Ben Kohane, the Vice President of YCSA, commented on this change in how class representatives interact with the YSU: “In previous years, class councils really had no input into student government here on campus, and were treated strictly like YSU clubs. Now, class representatives have a greater say, and are led by a seasoned veteran of student government, YSU VP of Classes Nathaniel Ribner.”
This year, Aitan Magence is assuming the role of Vice President of Clubs for YSU. As a leader of YU Club Canada for a few years now, Magence learned firsthand the difficulties of dealing with a student council that didn’t communicate efficiently and wasn’t receptive to a club’s needs. Magence told me via email that on one occasion he “submitted an event request that got rejected but no one from the student government contacted us to let us know… the moral of the story is that this should not have happened.” He added that his goal as the Vice President of Clubs is to ensure that all clubs and events run as smoothly as possible, and that he hopes to meet with club leaders after the chagim to coordinate with them.
Led by President Shai Berman, this year’s YCSA is “looking to expand [its] programming and run a couple of larger academic events over the course of the year. Moreover, YCSA has begun an effort to establish itself as the voice of Yeshiva College students and, as part of that effort, we have started to create a mechanism through which Yeshiva College students will be able to effectively communicate their suggestions and input to the Dean’s Office,” detailed Berman. Berman would also like to inform students that the YCSA will be releasing a Google form in the near future allowing students to communicate to YCSA any academic needs, concerns, or suggestions.
“All of these amendments speak to the student leaders' ongoing commitment to best represent the student body when creating programming, when addressing academic concerns, or when discussing new ideas with university administrators,” concluded Jesin. The restructuring and improved efficacy of the various branches of the student government will allow them to serve the student body more efficiently, ensuring an enhanced college experience for all.