Student Senate Co-Presidents prepare for new year

Student Senate Co-Presidents Derek Holm and Matthew Olson. By: Alex Messenger
Student Senate Co-Presidents Derek Holm and Matthew Olson. By: Alex Messenger

“If you have concerns, voice them. That’s why we’re in office. … We were elected by the campus, so we want to do what’s best for them.” That’s the message to all Gustavus students, upperclassmen and first-years alike, from the college’s newest Student Senate Co-Presidents, Matthew Olson and Derek Holm.

Olson, a senior economics major, and Holm, a senior management major, were elected to their positions this past March, garnering 41 percent of the student vote. The job these two will be taking on this year is by no means a small task. If we all recall, last year was, at the least, a tumultuous one for our campus.

For Student Senate, it was a period of recovery, as the leadership of Luke Garrison ‘09 and Shawn Grygo ‘09 not only worked to adopt a new Constitution, but strove to ease much of the annual anguish caused by budget allocations for student groups. For the greater Gustavus community, the hits kept on coming. In March, Provost Mary Morton resigned from her post, followed by Academic Deans Eric Eliason and Mariangela Maguire and Dean of Students Hank Toutain in the month of May.

Nonetheless, the new co-presidents remain unfazed. “That’s the nature of higher education, for [administration] to change when a new president comes in,” Olson said.

The two co-presidents are working diligently to encourage better communication with President Jack Ohle, as they have set up biweekly meetings with him to discuss student concerns, college issues and even the new administrators.

“Everyone kind of operates in the same capacity. … there are just new faces,” Co-President Holm said on the issue.

This year, David Fienen, former music professor, will fill the role of provost, followed by John Clementson and Barbara Knight Kaiser as associate provosts filling the dean of faculty and dean of academic programs positions, respectively. In the division of student affairs, former Career Center Director Jeffrey Stocco will fill a one-year role as dean of students.

More than anything, the two Co-Presidents stressed that while they have the utmost trust in the new administrators, they merely hope they can count on the new faces to keep them in the loop, so they can do the same for the student body. One of the biggest steps in the process will come in October, with the release of the recommendations by Commission Gustavus 150.

“What exactly [Commission Gustavus 150] entails is still kind of a mystery until all of that is released,” Holm said.

Besides the changing of the guard in administration, the Senate co-presidents have a lot else on their minds as well. This new academic year will be the Senate’s first full year under the new Constitution, passed on Nov. 24, 2008 with the support of the student body. Included among the changes is a decrease in the number of elected senators, as well as an adjustment in how annual elections will be held.

Olson and Holm were the first co-presidents to be elected in the spring, which changed from fall elections to reduce turnover. Elections for campus senators, including hall, class and international representatives, will be held on Sept. 28.

“If you’re interested [in Student Senate], apply and vote,” Olson said. “Good leaders need to be able to feel acclimated to the campus and have a vision for how they will step up to the plate for the College.”

One of the more exciting aspects of upcoming elections includes the way in which votes will be gathered. This year students will be able to more privately cast their votes via the Internet, as opposed to previous years of tabling outside of the Market Place with paper ballots.

A pilot program, developed by Student Senate Technology Director Kevin Seitz, a senior computer science major, uses a similar platform as Gustavus’ student information system to allow students to vote online from their dorm or from public computers anywhere on campus. E-mails about the upcoming elections have already been distributed, and more will come in the near future explaining how the new voting system will expedite the process of balloting.

Another exciting element of this upcoming year is the extra funds available for mid-year budget requests for student organizations. On last spring’s co-president election ballots, another measure increasing student activity charges by $10 per student was also voted on and passed by 74 percent of voters, creating nearly $25,000 in excess funds for allocations.

Organizations budgets have been a cause for frustration for many Gusties. “It seems unfair that Student Senate has enough to give almost $2,000 to every organization on average, but only allocates $50 to some and more than $5,000 to others,” Junior Secondary Math Education Major Andrew Bryz-Gornia said. “I would just like to see what some of these organizations are asking money for.”

Many calls such as these have come from the student body to encourage Student Senate to make the financial allocation process more transparent. According to Student Senate’s financial statement for 2008-2009, Senate allocated over $232,000 to student organizations and granted more than $10,000 in mid-year requests.

“We are trying to hear every request as unbiased and fair as we can,” Olson said. “We need to think of what is best for Gustavus as a whole.”

What we can be certain of is that the role of Student Senate is bound to remain consistent here at Gustavus. As a result, the only way in which they can best serve the student body is to remain informed. The first full Student Senate meeting will be held on Monday, October 5, 2009 and will be open to the entire Gustavus community. To chime in on the issues that matter to you, utilize the new co-presidents’ e-mail alias,