University Student Senate elects Haris Khan as new chairperson

Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

For many people, the morning means a time to get ready for the day ahead, maybe eat some breakfast, and head off to school or work. But for Haris Khan, however, the morning is where the day’s work begins. He wakes up, picks up his phone, and scrolls through his emails, many of which are still unread. Khan will read through them, responding to a few, before being called by a collogue and discussing with him some plans for the day.

Khan is a senior at City College, CUNY’s flagship, where he is the president of their Undergraduate Student Government, or USG. And, as of Oct. 29, he is the new University Student Senate Chairperson and a voting member on the CUNY Board of Trustees.

The University Student Senate, or USS, of the City University of New York “is the official student governance and lobbying organization charged with representing the interests of the students of CUNY” according to their LinkedIn account. The delegates that make up the Senate are all students who come from the twenty-five schools within the CUNY system, including CCNY and Baruch. The USS is led by its steering committee of a Chairperson, this year, Khan, and nine Vice-Chairs who are elected annually. 

USS’s Chairperson also becomes a voting member on the Board of Trustees, the only member who is a current student at a CUNY school. The other members are put in place by the Governor, currently Andrew Cuomo. The Board deals with the policy and finance side of running the school; they decide on tuition increases, budget changes, and the passage 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 his President stepped down, requiring him to move up in the ranks. 

“I serve in this dual capacity,” Khan said of his positions. “It’s very chaotic and it’s very harsh, the executive responsibility on top of another chief executive responsibility. It does take a lot, but 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, know that if I wasn’t in this room, know that if my collogues weren’t in this room there are things that would have not been said and those things can translate into actual dollar amounts or actual policy changes or actual program creation.”

During his term in USS and the Board, Khan said that he has multiple goals he wants to accomplish. He said he wants to have the Dream Act passed so undocumented students can have access to financial aid, election day to become a holiday so that students would be more able to vote, and to 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 with 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 towards student services, such as hiring more professors and financial aid advisors. Instead, however, the extra money being paid in tuition has actually been going into 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.

“He’s (Governor Cuomo) using the backs of students, low-income and immigrant students, to pay for the university’s basic costs, that includes faculty pay,” said Khan. “We’re asking this year [for a] tuition freeze, 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” – a 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. “This organization has huge potential, we have a really dedicated leadership team this year that got elected with myself. All of my collogues are incredibly smart and brave and courageous and have done great things on their campuses and now they’re willing to take it CUNY-wide. 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 in and this work remains in student advocacy (sic).”

Since Khan’s term only began last month, the question still remains, will he be effective in office? While it may be difficult to predict that, his collogue 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 being Khan’s personal advisor. “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 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.”