Guest Speaker UNH Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Wayne Jones:

 

Full Student Senate Meeting – Feb. 17, 2019:

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In an unexpected turn of events, the Student Senate pulled both its scheduled resolutions as it simultaneously bolstered its ranks and welcomed Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Wayne Jones in its 16th meeting of the 40th Session. 

The night’s biggest source of debate came from Resolution 40.18 – entitled “Urging the Creation of a Pet-Friendly Dorm” and introduced by Sen. Yuri Makar (Peterson 1, Co-2) and Campus Structure Chair Devon Guyer – which urged UNH’s Department of Housing and Residential Life, Office of Business Affairs and Office of Student Life to work alongside student leadership to create a new pet-friendly living space or retrofit existing living spaces to accommodate the request by the beginning of Academic Year 2020-21. 

The motion argued that the implementation of a pet-friendly dorm policy “would appeal to a number of students living on campus housing,” especially for students “who experience high levels of anxiety and/or stress” as it would improve their well-being as some pets would “aid as therapy and companionship for mental illness.” The move would also, per its text, create another competitive advantage for the university as it would, for instance, “directly help to increase the financial health” of UNH through a larger and “stronger” on-campus student population. 

R.40.18 also referenced two previous efforts advocating for the creation of pet-friendly housing, R.37.38 (which passed in the spring of 2016 and urged for such housing by Fall 2017) and R.38.44 (which passed in the spring of 2017 and called for its implementation by the 2018-19 academic year); the motion stated that both failed due to “no progress” on the behalf of UNH administration. 

In his explanation of the motion, Makar told the body that his primary motivation for presenting the bill – now in its third iteration – was to restart discussions on the topic while putting forth his “full effort” into making it a reality. When questioning began, Sen. Stephan Toth (Lord 1) inquired about the bill’s specifics, ranging from what pets were allowed or prohibited in the new dorms to where the new retrofitted space would be located and questions over whether students could both find enough time to care for their pets and fulfill their academic schedules. 

“As of right now, fish are already allowed for some people in residence halls, so this is primarily more towards house animals like dogs and cats,” Makar said in response to Toth’s question regarding allowed pets in living spaces. However, the motion author could not speak to the senator’s latter concerns because, per Makar, the motion was designed to initiate conversation and focus on execution down the road should it pass. 

“There’s no exact, concrete plan, this is why I want to put this up so that we can discuss this with Housing,” he said. However, Makar confirmed to Sen. Marinda Weaver (Adams Tower 1, Co-2) that emotional support animals would be included in the proposal when asked. 

Despite Makar’s hopes to begin discussions on the subject, several members, such as Sen. Logan Stevens (Peterson 1, Co-1), expressed concerns over the motion’s “unclear” language regarding its true intentions, with Stevens asking whether such intentions were to just restart discussions with administration or directly urge Housing to lay the actual foundation for pet-friendly dorms. Others, such as External Affairs Chair Liam Sullivan, questioned Makar over the effect of pets in campus housing on academic success; Makar replied that he had not found “concrete” research that showcased a link between pets and performance. Makar also could not confirm potential, similar systems at other colleges in the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) and their efficacy when asked by Sen. Luke O’Connell (Congreve 1). 

When Student Trustee Christian Merheb, who authored R.37.38 back in 2016, asked Makar whether he had met with members of Housing or UNH administration to uncover the reasons for the lack of progress on the issue, the motion author said that, in a meeting with an unidentified member from Housing months before, the issue had not been brought up. 

“I’m as against this now as I was back in 2016; and it’s not because I don’t like pets, it’s because I really love them,” Business Manager Abigail Sheridan told the body as she addressed her concerns over this third iteration and why it should not pass in its current form. “I don’t believe emotional support animals are in place for the people who really need them. But the reason why this also didn’t continue is because you can’t deny housing to students, so if a student had an allergy and wanted to live in the pet-friendly dorm, you can’t deny their housing; so everybody would have to get rid of the animals, and that’s where we hit the snag in this resolution back in 2016, and it really seems like there hasn’t been any concrete solutions or research done into mediating those problems.” 

On top of such concerns, Student Body Vice President Jake Adams expressed fears of both passing the motion and making little headway yet again and failing the motion and seemingly expressing the sentiment that the student body would not want pet-friendly dorms “in any capacity.” Ultimately, with doubts mounting, Merheb and Adams made a motion to remand the resolution to the Campus Structure Council – headed by co-author Guyer – for revisions to its language and additional research into the matter on the whole. 

Prior to the vote, Speaker Nicholas LaCourse emphasized the “unprecedented” nature of the vote to remand, saying that, unlike a postponement or pulling of a resolution, it gives a motion a chance at revision and research before being returned to the Senate for another vote. The vote to remand R.40.18 ultimately passed with two nays. 

The night’s other resolution – R.40.12, entitled “Student Initiative: Notes Improving, Sustaining and Benefiting the Athletics Department (S.I.N. I.S. B.A.D.)” and brought to the floor Judicial Affairs Chair Alexandra Work – was pulled from the agenda prior to planned debate by the author indefinitely, per Speaker LaCourse due to, per an email to The New Hampshire following the meeting, “significant legal issues associated with its text.” In its initial presented form, the motion urged University of New Hampshire Athletics to mandate that the Durham campus’ football team attend a “non-denominational prayer session” at an unspecified Durham church prior to each home game during regular and playoff football, with the aim of making the team more inclusive to more religious potential players in the name of improved “positive association[s]” and “interactions” between university students and Durham residents. 

Dr. Jones served as the week’s guest speaker, where, at the meeting’s start, addressed current projects in Academic Affairs, his response to UNH President James W. Dean, Jr.’s, Jan. 24 “Future of UNH” address, and providing clarity to the roles and duties associated with the position of provost. 

Jones, who served as Dean of UNH’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS) until spring 2018 when he was brought on as interim provost, told the body that current projects include, among others, efforts at student retention following the president’s address. The provost, touching upon Dean’s address, thanked the Student Senate, who joined the Graduate Student Senate, the Faculty Senate, the deans and the Cabinet, for their input in crafting the president’s discussion of the university’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (S.W.O.T.). Contributing to gathering the four points of data was the Senate’s R.40.11 legislation, passed on Dec. 2, that called for a S.W.O.T. analysis study of the entire university. The four points of data, prior to Dean’s address, along with student and faculty aspirations and top goals, were compiled, per Jones, into an email chain to all UNH students, faculty and staff in a plan the provost said “no one thought would…work.”  

“And the reason no one thought it would work was because most people thought, ‘this is going to be emailing a stream of lots of emails that everyone is just going to hit delete [on],’” Jones said; “but in reality, when we sent it out asking for more input, we had over 2,000 responses in the first 24 hours, and double that before we ended up wrapping it up…five days after that.” The provost added that the large responses, as well as R.40.11, were instrumental in contributing to Dean’s final address. 

In other senatorial business, the Senate yet again added to its ranks with the unanimously approval of Nick Byrne (Woodsides), Matthew Dipallina (Mills), Allie MacPhee (Non-Res) and Cameron Horack (Non-Res) as its newest senators; the body also added to its Public Relations Committee when Sen. Makar was unanimously approved as its newest member. By contrast, its Judiciary Committee saw a slight decrease with the removal of Sen. O’Connell from the group, concluded by a vote of 35 for and two against. 

Following the remanding of R.40.18, the Senate adjourned at 7:29 p.m. 

Benjamin Strawbridge is a News Editor and the Senate Correspondent for The New Hampshire newspaper at the University of New Hampshire. He joined in September 2017 as a contributor, and was promoted to his current position in April 2018. Strawbridge is part of the UNH Class of 2020 and majors in English/Journalism.

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