Haris Khan wakes up in the morning ready to start his day’s work. For many of his peers, the morning can be a relaxing time to get ready for the day ahead. When Khan wakes up, he first scrolls through his emails, many of which are still unread. Khan will respond to a few before being called by a colleague and discussing with them any plans he might have for the day.
Since Khan wears a few different hats in the CUNY system, he is more involved in the college community than other students are. Khan is a senior at City College, CUNY’s flagship school, where he is the president of its Undergraduate Student Government.
In addition to these roles, as of Oct. 29, he is the new University Student Senate chairperson and a voting member on the CUNY Board of Trustees.
The CUNY University Student Senate “is the official student governance and lobbying organization charged with representing the interests of the students of CUNY,” according to its LinkedIn account.
The delegates that make up the Senate are all students who come from the 25 schools within the CUNY system, including CCNY and Baruch College.
The USS is led by the chairperson of the steering committee — this year Khan has that position — and nine vice chairs who are elected annually.
USS’s chairperson also acts as a voting member on the CUNY Board of Trustees, the only member on the board who is also a current student at a CUNY school. The other members are put in place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The board deals with the policy and finance side of running the school: They decide on tuition increases, budget changes and the passing of new policies.
The chair serves as the student voice on the board that otherwise consists of professionals who don’t feel firsthand the effects of their rulings.
This term, Khan was elected to be USS chair after having been a delegate for a little over two years. He became his school’s USG president accidentally, so to speak — he was the vice president when the president stepped down, requiring Khan to move up in the ranks.
“It’s very chaotic and it’s very harsh, the executive responsibility on top of another chief executive responsibility,” Khan said of his positions.
“At the end of the day I realized it’s an honor and privilege to be able to sit in a room with administrators and put forth student aid and know that I have the mandate of my students.” Khan feels that the work he does with his colleagues translates into actual, fundamental change.
Khan has multiple goals. He wants to have the Dream Act passed so undocumented students can have access to financial aid, Election Day to become a recognized holiday so that students would be more able to vote and make progress in the way sexual assault is responded to on campus.
Additionally, he plans to accomplish goals dealing with CUNY’s budget, such as the distribution of funds to different departments and increasing salaries for professors.
According to Khan, CUNY has undergone a series of tuition hikes that began in 2012 that were supposed to go toward student services, such as hiring more professors and financial aid advisers.
Instead, however, the extra money being paid in tuition has actually been going to the salaries of current faculty and staff members, even though salary increases are supposed to come from the governor’s office, not the student services budget.
“[Cuomo’s] using the backs of students, low-income and immigrant students, to pay for the university’s basic costs, that includes faculty pay,” Khan said. “We’re asking this year [for a] tuition freeze, [to] fund the professors, give them actually decent paychecks and competitive wages so we can attract the best professors.”
Khan also has aspirations to improve USS itself so that it can better serve CUNY students in the future, even after he is out of office. He calls this a “culture change” that will leave the Senate more open with the students and less removed from the population it’s meant to govern.
“Internally for USS, we’re doing a lot of restructuring,” he explained. “We’re trying to create a culture of transparency. USS has always been this kind of elitist, very fancy, exclusive kind of body and I’m trying to make it more of the people’s organization; this is the people’s office. My title is not my title, my title is the people’s title, and I’m going to leave whenever I do, but this office remains and this work remains in student advocacy.”
Since Khan’s term only began last month, the question still remains whether he will be effective in office.
While it may be difficult to predict that, his colleague Cyrille Njikeng, executive director of USS, said that he is confident in Khan’s abilities as a leader.
“Chairperson Khan is a very focused and selfless person and those qualities translate into his leadership,” stated Njikeng, who manages the Senate’s office and staff, as well as acting as Khan’s personal adviser.
“Khan could accomplish everything he puts his mind to, and being a Chair and a student trustee is a goal that he set himself and he achieved it. Being a student leader is not an easy task, but he has great values and his motivation is to make is family and his late father proud, so I strongly believe he is not going to fail this great organization. It will be a very interesting year.”
As for what’s next in his life, Khan isn’t entirely sure of his exact path, but he is sure that whatever he will do will be in the business of helping the people of New York City.
At the moment, he plans on becoming a public defender.
“My next step in life is hopefully: go to law school, get a JD, work in the public’s interest, advocate for civil rights and civil liberties for minorities and underserved communities,” Khan said.
“I think living my life, doing the people’s work is the next step.”
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