The final confirmation of its next executive officer and debate surrounding a top-down report on the state of UNH helped guide the Student Senate in its eleventh and second-to-last meeting of the fall 2018 semester.
At the core of Sunday’s agenda was the pending approval of a university Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (S.W.O.T.) Analysis, a report conducted by the Senate requested by UNH President James W. Dean, Jr. The report was the centerpiece of Resolution 40.11 – entitled “Approving a University S.W.O.T. Analysis” and introduced by Student Body President Ethan McClanahan, Student Body Vice President Jake Adams, Student Trustee Christian Merheb, Senate Speaker Nicholas LaCourse and Deputy Speaker/Parliamentarian José Calvo.
The motion stated that senators involved in the analysis were asked to seek direct “input” and “feedback” from their constituents on each of the four categories through a form via Qualtrics, a national management company known for their online survey software, created by the Senate’s executive board, with its results being ultimately analyzed and compiled by the committee into the final report presented before the body. Student Senate was one of several organizations on campus that was asked by Dean to conduct the report.
Among the report’s “strengths” included “opportunities for personally-tailored growth and education,” significant student involvement in academic and extracurricular activities on campus and the number of available avenues students can use to “provide feedback or make changes within the institution.” Meanwhile, high tuition and attendance costs, disquiet over insufficient diversity within the student and faculty bodies and the addressment of recent issues surrounding “insulated decision-making” and the quality of overall transparency on campus were expressed as some of the university’s “weaknesses.”
The report’s participants, per the motion, also cited a number of “opportunities” the university could potentially take advantage of to improve overall campus life, such as fine-tuning its branding to focus more on “prestigious academic achievement” and the vast array of extracurricular activities and research opportunities present at UNH, the “shifting sentiments” of the NH General Court to “facilitate more support for the University System [of New Hampshire (USNH)]” – especially in the wake of last month’s midterm elections that resulted in new Democratic majorities in both its House and Senate – and increased support for the creation of more “innovative solutions to University issues” by taking advantage of the campus’ “great diversity of thought” among its students, faculty, staff and administrators.
However, a number of present and looming “threats” that could hurt UNH in the long-term future also made its way into the report and the minds of student senators, ranging from falling enrollment in post-secondary education – part of a nationwide decline – and projects that could negatively affect student housing to concerns over sentiments that members of UNH administration are not listening to all student feedback and the increasing frequency of “bias-related” incidents involving racism and general discrimination, according to President McClanahan.
Vice President Adams, when asked about how certain “areas of student life” have allegedly “begun to stray away” from the needs of students, stated that “elements of the quality of certain services have gone down due to certain funding restrictions of the past couple years,” leaving students “less content” with the output as a result despite rising prices, consequently leading to the sentiment that, per Adams, “students are getting less for the same price.” McClanahan cited UNH Dining as an example, saying that their current services do not reflect their rising dining fees.
Over the course of the discussion, the body amended the motion with new “weaknesses” and “threats,” with the former related to a “myriad of issues” regarding student parking and transportation and the latter concerning the aforementioned “bias-related” incidents. In addition, Sen. Marinda Weaver (Adams Tower 1, Co-2), after discovering that a total of 26 participants responded to the Qualtrics survey, questioned whether the final report “adequately” reflected the state of the university; McClanahan responded that he had repeatedly asked for as many respondents from Student Senate as possible to take part but concluded that the report sufficiently reflected the body’s overall sentiments for each category.
The student body president added that ultimately, President Dean aims to compile each of the S.W.O.T. reports, including the Senate’s if passed, and work with UNH stakeholders to seek solutions to the university’s biggest problems and how to approach them properly, all in his efforts to better understand the campus in his first months on the job.
Ultimately, the motion and corresponding report passed the Senate with one nay.
Sunday’s meeting also saw a second vote on its next executive officer, with Speaker LaCourse utilizing a bill to once again nominate Director of Public Relations Brittany Dunkle to replace former Executive Officer Caelin McMahon. LaCourse explained that, due to concerns over the first vote, the approval process had been amended so that the majority of the Officer Corps would have a say in the process the second time around; out of three total candidates, the Corps unanimously threw its support behind Dunkle.
As the Senate considered her nomination, Dunkle, an anthropology major, handed out her proposed “Spring 2019 Recruitment + Retention Plan” that would encourage greater and fairer participation in Student Senate through, among other means, a cleaner office, the end of the “Senator of the Month” award – Dunkle linked it to a “participation trophy” – increased utilization of the body’s internet resources ranging from Facebook groups to direct messaging to encourage increased recruitment and urging senators to write up and hand out weekly recaps of their progress and actions to give their constituents.
“This semester, I have been working on a research project about Student Senate and its power dynamics, and I just feel like I really like to interact with people, and I feel like I’m not doing that as Director of Public Relations, and I feel like the executive officer’s the perfect position to blend those [experiences] together,” Dunkle said as she argued why she is best for the role.
The Senate at length approved of Dunkle’s nomination as the bill passed with four abstentions.
In addition, the Senate welcomed Dr. Shari Robinson, the director of Psychological and Counseling Services (PACS), who introduced the department to the body and spoke positively of increased visits from students in terms of consultations and individual and group counseling sessions, as well as high marks in a recent “client satisfaction survey” featuring stats showing that 69 percent of respondents, for example, feeling that they have “made progress toward my goals.” Robinson also touched upon PACS’s efforts to diversify its staff to best reflect the increasing diversity of the student body it serves.
In other senatorial business, the body unanimously voted to remove Sen. Sarah Scheinman (Gables 4) from the Session, and ultimately adjourned at 7:38 p.m. after delayed communications.
Correction (12/6 12:34 p.m.): an original version of this article stated that there were 12 candidates in the running for Executive Officer; there were only three candidates including Dunkle.