Asking RIT students how they feel about Student Government (SG) will almost always elicit a mixed response. The organization is vilified by some, exalted by others and ignored by most. While conflicting opinions are a natural part of any political or social atmosphere, the less-than-positive attitude toward SG often stems from feelings that the group is inefficient. Each year, however, an almost embarrassingly low percentage of students vote to elect a new president, while an overwhelmingly majority later complains about this choice.
With SG elections set for April 18 - 21, informing the student body about the candidates becomes increasingly important. This year, both presidential campaign teams are stressing student involvement. Through this involvement, they hope that real changes can be made to improve the RIT experience. While these teams have different goals, attitudes and opinions, they share a desire for student feedback. All four candidates stressed that the focal point of their campaign is to take student feedback and use it the best they can. Both teams have used a variety of methods, both old and new, to get their message across to the students. From speeches to Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, it seems like they have employed every possible option to achieve a campus presence.
After attempting to connect with the student body, the next step was to get to the meat of each campaign, allowing those unfamiliar with the candidates to take a look at their goals for the upcoming year.
Greg Pollock and Phil Amsler
“Student life has always been an issue of connecting students to the campus,” said Vice Presidential Candidate Phil Amsler. “It’s about making people happy that they’re at RIT and not just a college.” Amsler, a fourth year Mechanical Engineering major, wasted no time in expressing his and Presidential Candidate Greg Pollock’s desire to focus their campaign on improving student life. “We look at housing; we look at parking; we look at dining service … If there are simple things that can be done to make things easier or cost less, that’s something we’d really like to
explore,” said Amsler.
The duo also has more ambitious goals, including the “Tiger Bike” program. Modeled after airport luggage cart systems, “Tiger Bike” would allow students to use their IDs to rent bikes for free from various locations around campus. They also plan to implement a live feed for bus routes; a place for quick wraps or quesadillas in either Frank E. Gannett Hall or James E. Booth Hall; and “Tiger Laundry,” a system for monitoring the remaining time on residence hall laundry machines.
Pollock, a fourth year Professional Technical Communications major, also acknowledged that the strength of student life comes from its diversity. “There are so many different backgrounds, experiences, religions and opinions that sometimes there are overrepresented and underrepresented groups,” he said. “What’s important is making all students feel like they’re a part of it all.” Pollock expressed excitement over a new website — to be launched in the coming weeks — that would be used to gather student feedback and possibly reach out to underrepresented groups. “We want to use that website as a way to gather opinions and make sure all students feel included,” Pollock said.
However, as much potential as new websites and Facebook pages might hold, Pollock and Amsler still agree that the best way to shape their own positions and goals is to get out on campus and talk to people. Pollock stated, “Sometimes it’s hosting that simple barbeque that gives you the outreach that you need. Everybody appreciates the upfront and personal interaction.”
Both Pollock and Amsler have backgrounds running Major Student Organizations (MSOs) here at RIT. This year, Pollock has acted as President of SG, President of the NTID Student Congress, a Resident Advisor, and a peer tutor for NTID’s English and Liberal Arts Department. Amsler was President of the Residence Halls Association for the past two years, an experience he feels will translate well into his role as Vice President.
“We have accomplished things. We go out and talk to administrators and get things done for students,” said Amsler about his role as RHA president. Some of these accomplishments include new leather furniture and LCD TVs in the dorm lounges; and the implementation of rollover debit, an achievement Amsler is proud of.
Pollock adds that their experience outside SG and in the MSOs has benefited them. “We’ve had an opportunity to look at SG from the outside and see what the average student might think,” he said.
When asked about the issues they see with SG and how they anticipate fixing them, Pollock and Amsler answered swiftly. “Right off the bat, I would have to say spending,” Amsler said. “Spending too much, spending too little. We have all these ridiculous standards and forms that you have to fill out so that one club can get 20 bucks to buy a pizza.” Amsler also criticized the amount of paperwork involved with clubs accessing their own money, adding that every person in a club that has a slice of pizza has to sign off for it. “That’s absurd. Honestly.
It’s your money.”
Amsler also criticized SG for spending too much. Recently the SG office was outfitted with orange lava lamps and a refrigerator with an LCD touch screen. “Why?” Amsler asked. “It could be so much better spent on clubs that really need it. We want to make sure that every club and student that comes to us has a quality experience.”
Pollock concurs. “I like to think that this year’s SG has put a bandage on the problem, but we want to make sure the wound is properly healed.” The two jokingly advocated using Scotch tape instead of red tape as they look to re-examine the philosophies that SG holds.
Dave Mullaney and Chris Scott
Between fourth year Information Technology major Dave Mullaney and his running mate Chris Scott, a second year Chemical Engineering major, there are a combined six years of experience in SG. Mullaney has been involved with SG for the entirety of his RIT career. Scott, who was Freshman senator in 2009-2010, was elected Kate Gleason College of Engineering senator this year; he’s the only senator from last year to return to SG.
“Being in Student Government for two years, I’ve seen a lot about how it operates and how it can be operated,” said Scott. “One of the biggest roles of the VP is to monitor the senators, and I’m the one person with the most experience as a senator in Student Government right now.”
Mullaney also brings a long list of experience and credentials to the table. He was a Freshman senator and the Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences senator. Mullaney spent two years as an RA and is currently the Vice President of SG. He’s been active and has implemented change in every organization he has been a part of.
Mullaney and Scott believe that there are small issues at RIT that can be readily fixed but are currently overlooked, including incomprehensible bus scheduling. “I hear over and over again ... how many kids complain about the bus system. I live in Park Point. I know what it’s like,” said Scott. The team has proposed a GPS system for the buses that will allow students to track the buses online or using their smart phones, an idea modeled after a similar system used at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
The team also wants additional dining options closer to the athletic facilities for student athletes looking to eat smart in the evenings. “No one wants to get out of practice and go eat a candy bar from Bytes
on the Run,” said Scott.
Mullaney and Scott implemented social media in full force to try and reach as much of the RIT community as possible. From Twitter, to Facebook, to their website, the pair believes that their experience and ideas can help bring a new
attitude to SG.
“I’m really proud of what we do in Student Government, but I feel like the organization needs to be shifted in a new direction with a new focus.” Mullaney said. “The cabinet and the Senate need to have a new focus on what our mission is.” Mullaney acknowledged that SG has responsibilities to the Institute and student community and that it seeks to unify those commitments. “We need to focus all of our efforts into being purposeful,” he says. Mullaney believes purpose can be achieved by making sure that all actions taken by SG are beneficial to the students and governing bodies at RIT.
When asked about the issues that SG currently faces, Mullaney and Scott also mentioned the budget. The team cited the difficulty many clubs face in accessing their own funds as a reason why some groups have given up hope of working with SG successfully. Said Mullaney, “We see the same groups coming back because they understand the system, and I think other groups are intimidated because they don’t understand the paperwork and red tape as much.”
When it comes to the SG Budget, a source of personal frustration for Mullaney is the end of the year banquet that the group throws. Mullaney compares this to the annual SG Super Bowl party. While both events cost the same amount — $10,000 — the Super Bowl party serves considerably more students. Also, it’s free. “We’ve got to take a look at our budget, take a look at each line, take a look at the number of students it impacts, and say, ‘Does this align with our values?’” Mullaney believes that adjusting the budget and balancing the amount of representation that various student groups receive in the Senate is the best way to “clean house” within SG.
It is much easier to point out the similarities between these two campaigns than their differences, and the relationship between the two seems to be an amicable one. Pollock summed it up: “I’m not running against Dave, we’re just running for the same position.” Transportation, housing and student life are the focal points for each team, which both hope to better serve all students at RIT.
Both parties face challenging goals, but there seems to be a desire on everyone’s part to improve the efficiency of SG. Mullaney feels it’s important to speak directly to students about what they want from SG. The best way to instill change is to do your homework,” he said.
Scott wants to see the student body make an informed decision about whom they will vote for. “I’d much rather people go out and vote because they know who they’re voting for, not just because they see my name and go ‘Oh, I know him,’” he said.
Once all the debates are finished and the speeches have come to an end, the power ultimately lies with the students of RIT. The avenues are there, the information is present, and the candidates are more than willing to start a dialogue with anyone who will approach them.