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USG's Town Hall addresses concerns

Baruch College’s Undergraduate Student Government hosted its first Town Hall on April 6 to address students’ questions and concerns. The event took place in the cafeteria and was livestreamed on USG’s Facebook page.

The Town Hall was assembled by Ehtasham Bhatti, USG’s vice president of academic affairs. It was moderated by Yelena Dzhanova, opinions editor of The Ticker, and aired on WBMB.

Roughly 30 to 40 students showed up in the cafeteria. As of press time, the livestream has 1,300 views.

“Every year, USG seems to battle the issue of transparency,” Bhatti said in an interview. “We've tried to counter that via our public senate meetings and having as many committee meetings as possible ... I also decided a Town Hall would enable students to hold USG accountable and transparent for our past activity this year and future goals in the coming weeks.”

The questions for the Town Hall were collected via three mediums. Prior to the event, Bhatti and Dzhanova created a Google Form for students to fill out in order to submit their questions. The form was closed at 2:30 p.m. the day of the debate.

At that point, the two filtered the questions to get rid of repeated questions and sort them into three categories: club life and athletics, fiscal matters and elections, and operations and teamwork. Out of roughly 55 questions that were submitted, 36 questions were sourced from the Google Form, Bhatti and Dzhanova said.

During the debate, students were also able to submit their questions via the comment section of the livestream. For those who were in the cafeteria, a box was set up and students were given index cards on which they could write down their questions.

“This past year, USG has been extremely busy with multiple events and initiatives. We initially wanted to have Town Hall in the fall, but with the [2016] elections being such a big topic on campus, we had multiple events lined up for that,” Bhatti said when asked why a Town Hall was not organized sooner. “The time right before spring break was ideal timing for spacing our events and being able to sum up our activities for the past year.”

One of the first questions asked during the debate concerned USG’s exclusivity, as the asker felt that the doors to USG suites were always closed and it was hard to be a part of USG.

In response, the senators assured that there are no requirements to join USG and many of the senators started by joining committees. If the doors are closed, they assured, it is because the senators are attending classes and are not always there.

A lot of the questions raised at the event concerned the way USG handles budgets, including club budgets and its own budget.

One of the main concerns was whether USG receives any oversight. To that, Austin Fischer, USG treasurer, replied that the way USG allocates club budgets and appeals money gets checked both by the Office of Student Life and, to a greater extent, by the Board of Directors. If the Board of Directors does agree with an allocation, they can ask USG to reallocate the money.

Another question asked about limitations on club budgets. One person asked why new clubs only get allocated $500, to which the USG replied that new clubs need to prove they are fiscally responsible. Bigger clubs can get upward to $10,000, although it is possible for them to co-sponsor and appeal for specific events.

A lot of audience questions concerned the fact that members of USG are paid through stipends while club leaders do not, even though some see the workload as being comparable. To that, Fischer reasoned that senators often have to give up internships for USG and are often required to work over 20 or 30 hours a week.

At the end of the event, Nardine Salama, an executive vice president in last year’s USG, spoke out from the audience to say that USG stipends are a compensation for what the senators get done for the college.

The last portion of the event discussed USG’s involvement with clubs and athletics.

One of the questions asked why, besides the Battle of Lexington, USG does not do more to promote athletics at Baruch. To that, the senators said that a lot of negotiations with athletics take place behind closed doors, which is why students do not hear much about it. Pep rallies, another form of support, merged with the Homecoming event that USG recently started.

“There were points in the event where we drew a blank and weren’t able to answer a few questions to the best of our abilities,” Bhatti said. “But we addressed a lot of the students, clarified our vision as members of USG, and spoke about projects we’re working on.”

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