One by one, the members of Student Council trailed into Paul’s Room last Thursday morning. By 8 a.m. — the nominal starting time for the routine biweekly meeting — only nine members of the Council had arrived. It was not until Robert Rush ’14, Abbot Cluster President, burst into the room at 8:20 a.m. that all 16 members of Student Council (except for one, who was missing due to car trouble) were present.
Despite the pending arrivals, Junius Williams ’14 and Clark Perkins ’14, Co-Presidents, began the meeting at 8:05, moving quickly through the morning’s business. Aneesh Ashutosh ’15, though not directly affiliated with Student Council, presented a prototype of a Student Council website he created, prompting a rapid exchange of questions and feedback. Most of the questions were directed to Perkins and Williams, who swiftly responded and moved on to the next topic.
While the Co-Presidents handle much of the Council’s business on their own, they also assign larger issues to subcommittees. These smaller groups of representatives meet outside of Student Council to address their intended topics.
In the case of the website, a subcommittee led by Tim Wynter ’14, Senior Rep, was responsible for finding and reaching out to a developer for the website, according to Williams. It was ultimately Arthur Doran ’15, Upper Rep on the subcommittee, who recruited Ashutosh to the cause. After that, the subcommittee’s role was vague. Before last Thursday’s meeting, Corinne Singer ’15, Upper Rep, said, “I couldn’t tell you the last time [the website subcommittee has] met… We have no idea of what’s going on.”
Though the idea for a website was proposed during the December 12 meeting, most members of Student Council were unaware of progress on the site until last Thursday, February 20, when Ashutosh unveiled the prototype he had made after a conversation with the Co-Presidents and Doran.
**THE QUESTION OF INTERNAL MOTIVATION: “This is a New System”**
The type of relaxation exemplified by the website subcommittee is one of the major challenges Student Council has struggled with this year. Following the recommendation of the Student Council Review Committee that convened last January, Perkins and Williams have made strides to formalize the Council’s internal workings. Student Council ratified a new version of its Constitution, drafted by the Co-Presidents, at the beginning of the school year.
“What that’s led to is us being very direct in being able to assign things, being able to delegate work amongst the Representatives and the Cluster Presidents,” said Williams. “We’re sort of looking at it like a club board in the sense that each person brings his or her own vision, but at the same time, each person needs to be held accountable for performing specific tasks.”
Though previous presidents have delegated work to other individuals on the Council, this was almost always done on a volunteer basis, said Williams. The formation of official subcommittees is a part of the grander strategy to make the Council work more efficiently outside of its 45-minute biweekly meetings.
As there is little follow-up or formal deadline for their work, however, some members of the Council are not motivated to continue pursuing their ideas, according to Rebecca Somer ’15, Upper Rep. “When you look at the most productive clubs on campus, they all have deadlines. We don’t have any and I think that’s one of the bigger issues,” she said.
Proposals that have seen progress have been the result of individual hard work. Caroline Shipley ’16, Lower Rep, brought forth the idea of installing water fountains, called “Hydration Stations,” around campus.
“I had seen these fountains at my middle school and many of Andover’s peer schools, so it seemed like a reasonable improvement that could be made on our campus to benefit both student health and wellness and sustainability,” said Shipley.
After discussing the idea at the January 23 Student Council meeting and talking to Tracy Ainsworth, Instructor in History, who was responsible for the first Hydration Station in SamPhil, Shipley wrote a proposal and sent it to seven faculty members. Shipley did not initially hear back from any of the faculty members whom she contacted, but she will meet with Debra Shepard, Sustainability Coordinator, shortly and is currently working with Williams to refine the initial proposal.
While Shipley’s proposal is pending approval, it represents just a fraction of the ideas that have never made it to the table or progressed to proposal form. This is due partially to the constraints of time, according to Williams. “When you’re meeting biweekly for 45 minutes and you have a lot of things to get done on your agenda, every second has to be budgeted out,” he said.
Williams remains optimistic that the Council is moving towards a more productive state of mind.
“We’re getting there,” he said, “but building something from the ground up takes a lot of time. This is a new system, a new constitution, a new group of people. So I think first comes legitimacy for Student Council. [For example,] we need to be more strict about elections, about coming to student council meetings.”
**FACULTY HOLD-UP: “Our Ability to Change is Glacial”**
As the Council holds no actual legislative power, it acts primarily as an advisory body to the faculty, administrators and Trustees of Phillips Academy. The Council’s role is two-sided: issuing advice on long-term concerns to decision-makers when needed, but also delivering proposals of its own on behalf of the student body to the administration.
Historically, Student Council’s influence as an advisory body has been strong. The Council has been vital in discussions regarding pace of life at Andover, Paul Murphy, Dean of Students, said. Decisions to regulate the workload and eliminate Saturday and evening classes have been made incrementally over time as a result of student dissatisfaction that is crystallized or presented by Student Council.
Changes resulting from the latter method are often harder to see, because proposals approved by the Council can be held up for months while pending approval from the faculty.
Such is the case with Student Council’s proposal to abolish initial sign-in for Uppers, a top priority for Student Council this year and an idea that originally appeared on Perkins and Williams’s platform when they ran last Spring Term. To tackle this, Perkins and Williams wrote up a formal proposal, which they sent to Council members before meeting as a whole group. After the entire Council discussed the idea, they voted and passed it as a resolution, said Williams. Finally, the written proposal was sent to the faculty – in this case the Cluster Deans and Dean of Students – on October 3, 2013.
“Each member pulled his or her own weight and contributed to that proposal. That proposal, however, has not been met with comparable action by the faculty,” said Williams. “We might be able to have a faculty meeting slot sometime in late April.”
A proposal itself is intended to facilitate and expedite the process of faculty approval, according to Williams. After brainstorming the idea for BluePrint in the spring of 2012, Perkins and Williams spent the next two-and-a-half years fleshing out the details of a wireless printing program proposal that could be approved by Dominic Veneto, Director of Information Technology, the department chairs of History and World Language, as well as the Aramark Office in Paresky Commons.
Still, even the process of writing the proposal required the help of numerous adults on campus. Only with the help of the Office of Technology were Perkins and Williams able to answer “why [BluePrint] is feasible economically, why it’s a green initiative, why this is better than printers in the dorm. [There were] all of these rings we had to jump through to finally get the project approved,” said Perkins.
Nevertheless, Williams said, proposals help. “It’s not just me saying I’m complaining about ‘xyz.’ It’s ‘Here is a problem, I am proposing a solution,’” he said. “I’ve been on the Council for three years now. Two of those years there was a lot of energy. It was misdirected. It was a lot of complaining and that whole wallowing mentality that we want to get rid of with proposals.”
Murphy said, “It’s so easy to say nothing happens. Nothing is accomplished any given year… It’s a big place. It’s been doing its thing for years and there’s a little bit of the sense that generally most things are going well. Your opinion is one Council’s opinion and you have to convince a lot of people around here to get things changed. Our ability to change is glacial – really, really slowly, but it does change.