New senate convenes, sets goals

ASUC senators gather for the first meeting of the school year to discuss various campus issues.
Edwin Cho/File
ASUC senators gather for the first meeting of the school year to discuss various campus issues.

ASUC senators opened the year’s inaugural meeting Wednesday night with brief discussions about impending campus issues — including the Lower Sproul Plaza renovation and further tuition increases — and executive goals for the academic year.

The roughly six-hour senate meeting — which according to Executive Vice President Chris Alabastro was much shorter than initial senate meetings in past years — touched on various upcoming changes, such as the renovation, economic strains on students and the redesign of the ASUC website, which Alabastro said he hopes will launch in a few weeks following minor adjustments.

In the first of two guest presentations, Academic Senate chair and campus physics professor Bob Jacobsen said he is interested in working with the ASUC in his capacity as chair and that he is tired of “playing defense” for the university.

“We have problems, and we have to deal with them,” he said at the meeting. “But we shouldn’t say, ‘How are we going to be 80 percent of what we were five years ago?,’ but ‘How can we be better than we are 10 years from now?’”

Alyosha Verzhbinsky, the consulting architect on the renovation project, gave the  senators an overview of the plaza reconstruction, adding that he plans to present new information about developments in the construction process to the senate later in the semester.

He said the phasing of the project — which is still undecided — will determine surge space.

The ASUC is also planning to organize a town hall meeting in mid-September to discuss surge space with student groups who will have to evacuate during renovation.

“Surge is a temporary thing,” Verzhbinsky said at the meeting. “We’re trying to spend as little money as possible on surge so that there’s more money for the thing that really lasts.”

Verzhbinsky also reported that though the project was over budget at the end of the spring term, relatively “painless” cuts were made to compensate for the overrun.

In a departure from past meetings, senators’ laptops were closed for the majority of the meeting in order to comply with Alabastro’s new “no laptop” policy to reduce distractions, which he said was the reason for the relatively short meeting.

All new bills were pushed to next week’s meeting after committee members were finalized.

ASUC President Vishalli Loomba described the upcoming year in her address as one of “unprecedented change” for the university, including the beginning of the implementation of Operational Excellence and increasing student tuition. Yet she encouraged senators to avoid engaging in divisive politics, despite the fact that the senate is split among four parties and an independent senator.

“As we begin our terms I hope we will keep in mind the goals of this organization,” she said at the meeting. “I’m not asking you all to agree on every issue, but I will say now is not the time to argue about whom is going to win the next election.”

After the meeting, senate members were enthusiastic about how discussions would continue over the several coming months.

“I’ve heard that in year’s past, the first meeting … can be source of a lot of contention and partisanship because you’re deciding on a lot of committees,” said CalSERVE Senator Andrew Albright. “It was really nice, having heard that, to walk in a room with 19 other people and have a conversation about things and seeing that we can all work together. It really makes me hopeful for the rest of the year.”