This semester USG lives up to motto: “Students first”

In the 2005 animated movie “Robots,” there was a mantra repeated by several characters: “See a need, fill a need.” This semester, The Observer staff thinks that the Undergraduate Student Government has taken this phrase to heart.

Students choosing their fall classes from the hundreds of classes on the Student Information System have had a new resource this semester, thanks to USG. The syllabus database, includes current and past class syllabi, which give students registering for classes a more complete idea of what to expect in the classes they are signing up for. It’s remarkable how useful such a simple system could be.

The current version is accessible on Google Drive and being managed by Xiaoyu Li, the USG vice president for academic affairs. Yes, this system is just a markup of the desired final system, and definitely still a work in progress, but even prototyping this system is a step in the right direction. Whether or when the full project becomes a reality is essentially out of USG’s hands, as it is currently making its uncertain way through the university’s several layers of bureaucracy, but in proposing it and implementing this small-scale trial version, they have done a great job of finding and addressing a student need.

Li noted specifically that a shift in academic affairs’ approach has yielded more concrete results this semester than in the past, but the same change can be seen across all of USG’s committees.

“Academic affairs’ goals have been lofty in the past… it’s important to keep these bigger goals in mind, but we’ve been trying to focus on things we can accomplish within the foreseeable future,” Li said. “Just saying that we ‘want to make it better’ is not really something that we can accomplish.”

Apart from the syllabus database, USG has also addressed several other student concerns. To improve student experiences with on-campus buses, USG implemented BusBuzz, a feedback system that allows students to text comments and concerns about the Greenies. To fix the shortage of dance floors available to student dance groups, the Village at 115 Gym is being renovated to serve as a practice space, and other options are being explored. On the issue of the Bon Appetit-controlled catering options in several university buildings, USG and other Student Executive Council members have formed a committee to look for solutions. Sure, The Observer’s staff (and the rest of the student body) would like to see a faster resolution on this topic, but ultimately there are a lot of players involved, and a lot of money in play.

If that laundry list of accomplished initiatives wasn’t long enough, we’ve got more for you. USG has also spoken with Veale Athletic Center management about this year’s new towel policy (a $40 fee for towel use for the year), and it will now be reverting back to the old policy (free towels for students). Added to that, thanks to a USG led proposal, the SEC will cover student group costs to use the Tinkham Veale University through an off the top allocation. While it’s still student money paying for the space, at least the process will be much simpler.

Additionally, USG has re-opened applications for Student Life Improvement Grants, creating opportunities for students to tackle campus issues themselves.

With all of the positive things that USG has gotten done this semester, there is of course still room for improvement. Specifically, there have been grumblings from student organization leaders about the speed at which it takes to reimburse students for student group purchases. While there are no doubt an overwhelming number of requests to address and a tricky OrgSync transition, it is this committee’s job to find a way to be more efficient in the face of the many student organizations’ fiscal needs. But we’re sure the finance committee, which does one of the most underappreciated jobs on campus, is up for the challenge.

USG president Taylor Gladys suggested that this uptick in USG productivity may be due in part to a new, more cohesive dynamic among USG members. Li pointed to greater member retention and members taking more ownership of specific issues.

Whatever the reasons, The Observer applauds USG for seeing student needs and addressing them through concrete results.