TCU Senate convenes for last meeting of the year

Sophia Gordon Hall on May 7, 2014. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily Archives

Members of Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate faced a packed agenda at their last regular meeting of the academic year last night, voting on seven resolutions and reviewing six supplementary funding requests.

Supplementary Funding Requests

Senators approved the Allocations Board (ALBO)’s recommended supplementary funding levels for five student organizations. The body also appropriated $5,500 for Tufts Synthetic Biology’s International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) and overturned ALBO’s recommendation not to fund the request, reprising an annual debate over funding tournaments for the research-based group.

At the annual iGEM tournament, undergraduate students compete to build and test synthetic biology systems. ALBO voted 4-3 against funding the tournament at its meeting last week because the Treasury Procedures Manual (TPM) prohibits funding for research.

Members of Tufts Synthetic Biology appealed ALBO’s decision at last night’s meeting, arguing that funding for the competition is not available through other sources and the tournament fees will not go directly to research. Senators have voted to fund tournament fees for iGEM — overturning ALBO’s recommendation — for the past several years, though 2019 tournament fees appear in the club’s annual budget for the next fiscal year.

ALBO members Sharif Hamidi and Izzy Ma said that the competition closely resembles research, especially because the competition organizers provide registrants with DNA and publishes its results in an open-source database. Meanwhile, other senators, including ALBO member Matthew Kennedy and Senator Jonah Schwartz, responded that the event is more akin to a robotics competition than a research endeavor.

After debate, senators voted 4-22-1 against the ALBO-recommended $0, and later voted 23-3-1 to fund the full fee of $5500 for the 2018 competition. For 2019, the club’s annual budget will pay for $3500 of this fee, with the remainder covered by fundraising.

Senate also fully funded requests by Global China Connection to attend a summit ($1252), Tufts Bhangra for a DJ at its annual performance event ($475) and Tufts Quidditch for transportation to a tournament at Brandeis ($229). Senate approved $317 for ALLIES for transportation to a workshop at West Point and $860 for Tufts Climbing Team to attend an annual tournament, after ALBO reduced those groups’ requests by adding personal contributions.

Unionization of Dining Services Workers

Senators passed a resolution urging Tufts administrators to voluntarily recognize Dining Services employees’ unionization efforts, and honor workers’ decision on whether to unionize, in a 24-2-0 vote. Workers will vote on whether to unionize on April 24 in a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)-regulated election.

The resolution’s reasoning hinged on claims of inadequate pay and benefits for Dining Services employees, as well as poor working conditions, in spite of continued tuition increases. Workers and student activists also raised these concerns at a rally earlier this month, during which labor organizers presented a petition to senior Tufts administrators.

Senators Shannon Lee and Schwartz, both of whom sponsored the resolution, spoke in favor of its passage. Lee, a sophomore, explained that the resolution is prompted by concerns that Tufts might run an anti-union information campaign ahead of the upcoming election, and she noted that the school should act neutrally before the vote and negotiate on a collective bargaining agreement immediately afterward. Schwartz, a junior, pointed out that more than 75 percent of workers signed union cards for UNITE HERE Local 26.

“At the end of the day, this is … the dining hall workers’ decision,” Schwartz said. “What we’re saying as a body is ‘We support your decision as dining hall workers.’”

Information Transparency

In a vote of 25-1-1, Senate passed a resolution proposing a system for community members to request institutional data and information about Tufts’ operations. The system, as outlined by the resolution, is modeled after similar processes at other private and public colleges, and would require Tufts to answer requests for information within one month. Information directly related to university negotiations, active police investigations and other sensitive topics would be exempt.

Sponsors Shane Woolley and Schwartz explained that a system for public information would help students understand budgetary decisions and give activist groups easier access to necessary information. Woolley, a junior, and Schwartz noted that Tufts currently maintains a data access system that is only open to university staff and argued that greater transparency would be beneficial for both students and administrators.

“We should have access to that information,” Schwartz said. “We’re members of this community — we’re active members of this community. They shouldn’t be hiding things from us.”

Commencement Speaker Selection

Next, senators passed a resolution encouraging Tufts to provide transparency and opportunities for student input when choosing future Commencement speakers. The resolution, which passed with a 24-3-0 vote, was prompted by Tufts’ decision to host former DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman (E ’78) as this year’s Commencement speaker. The school’s choice has met controversy due to DuPont’s record of environmental and occupational safety infractions.

Vice President Anna Del Castillo mentioned that students can currently nominate speakers, but no students sit on the selection committee, recounting a conversation with University President Anthony Monaco and Provost David Harris. In contrast, students were involved in the selection process in 2012, according to sponsor Willy Clements.

Clements, a senior, hopes to see a democratic process for speaker selection, though he acknowledged that administrators should be included in the decision as well. While Tufts should be able to maintain relationships with Kullman and other alumni, Clements said, Kullman was not an appropriate choice for Commencement speaker.

“The Commencement speaker is supposed to be someone who represents our values,” Clements said. “This is not someone who reflects these values.”

Renewable Energy

Senate passed a resolution urging the university to commit to 100 percent renewable energy and switch to electric heating, cooling and transportation by 2050, in a vote of 24-2-0. The proposal was modeled after commitments by Somerville, Cambridge and other cities, according to Senators Mateo Gomez and Rebeca Becdach, both of whom sponsored the resolution.

Tufts has already committed to working toward carbon neutrality, but Gomez and Becdach, both first-years, noted that this commitment allows the school to achieve neutrality by purchasing offsets unrelated to the school’s operations. A renewable energy commitment, on the other hand, would set out clear goals for Tufts while still allowing the school to purchase renewable energy rather than producing it on campus, they said.

“This commitment would go beyond carbon neutrality in that it guarantees that Tufts does not produce pollutants,” Becdach said.

Stipends for Student Leaders

Senate then passed a resolution calling on the university to offer stipends for students who serve in leadership roles and have demonstrable financial need. The resolution proposed that Director for Campus Life Joe Golia, Business Manager at the Campus Life Financial Office Annie Wong and other officials create a process to select students eligible for stipends based on applicants’ administrative and logistical work for student organizations.

Senators approved $10,000 for the stipends at last week’s meeting, TCU Treasurer Emily Sim noted, but this resolution urges offices at Tufts to contribute funding for stipends in future years, with the goal of ensuring long-term sustainability. This proposal is unrelated to the additional stipends that were approved for certain members of TCU Senate last week, Sim added.

The resolution cites the substantial unpaid work currently performed by many students, which often is equivalent to a part-time job. Sim, who co-sponsored the resolution, explained that the proposal avoids value judgments on whether certain groups are more deserving than others.

“Naturally, some groups have more visibility because of the nature of what they do,” Sim said. “[The clause defining qualifications] is trying to focus the work and the validity of the work on the person and their position rather than [the group].”

The resolution also does not mandate a minimum time commitment, instead noting that stipends are intended for time commitments similar to part-time jobs. An amendment authored by TCU President Benya Kraus specified that applications should be prioritized based on “time commitment, administrative function and overall community contribution,” addressing concerns by Class of 2018 Senator Jordan Kemp and others that stipends could be perceived as assistance for students’ hobbies.

After Kraus’ amendment was added, senators debated the resolution. Hamidi and Class of 2021 Senator Sarah Weiner cautioned that some students, including certain international students and people from middle-income backgrounds, are in need of compensation but do not qualify for university financial aid, but the resolution sets financial aid as a prerequisite.

In response, Kraus, Sim and Del Castillo noted that low-income students need particular focus, and said that extending the fund to all students could overburden administrators tasked with choosing stipend recipients by requiring them to also assess applicants’ need.

After an unmoderated caucus and a debate, senators passed the resolution 25-1-1.

Filling Vacant Positions in the Group of Seven Centers

The final resolution was proposed by Gebetsberger; Becdach; Lee; Kraus; junior Ana Sofía Amieva-Wang; Class of 2021 representative and First Gen Community Senator Alejandro Baez, a first-year; International Commmunity Senator Maureen Kalimba, a sophomore; LGBTQ+ Community Senator Kathleen Lanzilla, a first-year; Africana Community Senator Fatima Ajose, a senior; Latinx Community Senator Maya Velasquez, a first-year; Latinx Community Senator Leticia Rocha, a sophomore; Asian American Community Senator Charlie Zhen, a junior; Women’s Community Senator Michelle Delk, a sophomore; and Issay Matsumoto, a first-year. The resolution calls Tufts to ensure that all vacant positions in Group of Seven centers be immediately filled, that every community center has its own full-time director, associate director and full-time administrative assistant, that Group of Seven staff members be paid equitably based on their positions, that Tufts prioritize increases in funding for Group of Seven centers in the future and that Tufts work towards implementing anti-bias training.

Lee recognized that the university has already invested a lot of time working to support the Group of Seven, including allocating $53,000 towards renovations for the 2017-2018 academic year. However, Lee also argued that there is still a long way to go, as Tufts’ centers are still not on par with those at other universities. Lee furthered noted that staff retention at the Group of Seven centers has become an issue; she said that over 12 faculty members of color, including K. Martinez, have chosen to leave Tufts this year.

The resolution passed 25-0-0.

Increasing Geographic Diversity

TCU Senate then reviewed a resolution, proposed by Becdach and Class of 2021 Senator Grant Gebetsberger, that calls Tufts to include in next year’s programming the new initiative HomeSTATE, which would encourage current Tufts students from underrepresented states to take their experiences home, conducting high-school visits in their home states in order to spread awareness. The resolution also calls Tufts to expand outreach to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.

Gebetsberger and Becdach advocated for the resolution by noting that, according to diversity data the Admissions Office released last fall, over half of Tufts’ student body comes from only five states — California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut — and they argued that it should be a priority for Tufts to expand its geographic diversity. According to Gebetsberger and Becdach, because admissions cannot visit all 50 states, HomeSTATE would be a way for current students to spread awareness and create interpersonal connections with prospective Tufts students from underrepresented states.

When asked whether Tufts student HomeSTATE participants would be compensated, Gebetsberger noted that the cost of conducting high school visits would be at bare-minimum net free, meaning all transportation and meal costs for participants visiting high schools would be covered.

Senators passed the resolution 25-0-0.

Daniel Weinstein contributed reporting to this article.


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