CSUN ushers in new leadership
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Incoming executives expect some fights, hope for changing tide
The 2012-13 CSUN Executive Board was inaugurated in a quiet ceremony in the CSUN office on Tuesday.
Undergraduate student body president Mark Ciavola, vice president Sara Farr and senate president Jay Yoon asked that CSUN cancel the traditional off-site inauguration dinner that would have cost $1,100, opting instead to be given the oath of office in the CSUN Conference Room, in the company of a handful of supporters.
Just days earlier, in the same room, the new administration presented its budget proposal to the senate Ways and Means Committee. The budget outlines a 21 percent decrease in CSUN spending on salaries and calls for more money to be allocated to scholarships.
The committee voted unanimously to support the budget.
Ciavola, Farr and Yoon then took their recommendations to senators in an informal question and answer session at the annual CSUN Senate Retreat — an event that was proposed with a price tag of $1,100 but ultimately cost CSUN nothing.
Ciavola and Farr, then senators, voted against the plan for the retreat. They were part of a contingent of representatives that ran for the student senate in October under the name Rebels United and that established a reputation for fiscal conservatism.
Throughout the 2011-12 senate session, Ciavola and Farr voted to limit spending on things like free food during CSUN elections.
“I think we actually aren’t the minority,” Ciavola said. “I think the vision of returning student government to the students has taken over now. That was evident in the senate in that we were able to accomplish so much that you wouldn’t think would be accomplished.”
He argued that the success of initiatives Rebels United supported points to a growing trend in CSUN and among students toward favoring a new brand of fiscal responsibility.
In March, Ciavola and Farr again joined forces under the Rebels United banner, and with CSUN newcomer Yoon, the ticket advanced through the primaries and swept the general election.
For Rebels United’s Rachel Stephens, who represents the college of health sciences and sided with Ciavola and Farr in many senate decisions this year, the new Executive Board’s 2012-13 budget plan is enough to prove that students chose the right candidates.
“I think it says something when the Executive Board suggests its own budget cuts,” she said at Sunday’s senate retreat. “Clearly the right people won.”
Ciavola, Farr and Yoon plan to take less pay in cash until they can pass an amendment to the CSUN Constitution that would lower their compensation and forego full-ride grants-in-aid from the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents.
In the end, they hope that the undergraduate student body president will be paid $16,000 rather than $20,008, that the vice president will get $15,000 rather than $18,958 and that the senate president will be paid $14,500 instead of $18,308.
The Executive Board’s budget plan also specifies a 21 percent cut in spending on directors’ salaries, which would be achieved by consolidating responsibilities and creating a larger staff of assistant directors to redistribute workload.
“I think we have to put a strong team in place of directors and assistant directors that will help carry out our vision,” Ciavola said.
The administration also hopes to develop a culture in which senators will be well-informed about the issues that come before them. The executives plan to regularly hold informal gatherings to allow senators to ask questions and get to know the issues they will vote on before the matters reach the senate floor.
“[We want to] let senators become a part of the decision-making process,” Yoon said, “so that it’s not always a top-down process.”
Under the Executive Board’s compensation plan, spending on senators’ pay would also drop 21 percent under the proposal, as legislative representatives would be paid $3,000 for their whole term rather than $50 per CSUN meeting they attend.
Also, chairs of senate committees would no longer receive bonuses.
If the senate passes the Executive Board’s budget plan and the amendments to the CSUN bylaws and constitution that would have to accompany it, it would bring Ciavola and his colleagues one step closer to achieving their goal: As he termed it, “to return student government to the students and ensure that they know who CSUN is what CSUN does and how CSUN spends their money.”
Yoon said that he aims to act publicly as an independent arbiter for the student senate.
“I will use my position of power to effectively lobby senators on big-picture issues,” he said, “but I’m not going to put my foot in every legislative battle.”
Yoon agreed that popular support for Rebels United’s philosophy has grown, but he said that he knows the Executive Board will face opposition as they push their agenda.
“I think senators agree with the overarching vision of having CSUN be a more fiscally responsible body,” he said, “but there will be fights.”
Ciavola said that the administration’s goals stretch beyond the proposals they will plan to promote — to the very core of what CSUN is and does.
“We need to make sure that we are all holding each other accountable and that we increase transparency,” he said, “so it’s not difficult for students to find out what’s going on and we’re bringing the information to them.”
The Executive Board will work with the current CSUN Senate until October elections bring in a new crop of representatives. Yoon pointed to Ciavola and Farr’s success in the October 2011 senate elections and the ticket’s victory in April and predicted that Rebels United would win seats again in the Fall 2012 elections.
“I think this third and final election will be the turning of the tide,” he said.
Contact Haley Etchison at firstname.lastname@example.org.