USS hosts annual leadership summit to train new delegates

During their 28th Annual Leadership Retreat, the Undergraduate Student Senate focused on training new student delegates and alternates for their positions for the academic year. Held at the Villa Roma Resort in the Catskills from Friday, Aug. 21 to Sunday, Aug. 23, USS delegates, alternates and administrative personnel across all CUNY senior and community colleges attended workshops tailored to their positions in USS. The USS, founded in 1972 by current Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations and Secretary of the Board of Trustees of CUNY Jay Hershenson, has the task of “preserving the accessibility, affordability, and excellence of higher education” by protecting the rights and promoting the general welfare of about 500,000 CUNY students and 24 colleges, according to their mission statement.

Two delegate students, Nison Mirakov and Mirzomuhsin Qodirov and two alternates, Daniel Dornbaum and Shobhit Ratan, represent Baruch College in USS. All four Baruch students ran and were voted into their positions with the Next in Lex campaign last spring semester during USG elections.

“The weekend was very busy since we constantly attended a lot of workshops [relating to] becoming a leader, functions of USS, [some] great interactive, entertaining activities, some of CUNY’s budgeting, workshop on Title IX and etc.,” said Qodirov.

Dornbaum, who is also the vice presidential senator of legislative affairs for Baruch USG, said he has had a lot of interaction in USS since he joined USG but the workshops held gave an in depth look into the organization’s inner workings. “Even for me, there’s a lot that USS does that I’m not aware of just because a lot of my work has been on Baruch’s campus. They run through everything that USS in itself does.”

Many of the workshops were run by CUNY vice chancellors and trustees and even a few council members. “Councilwoman Inez Baron who chairs the higher-ed committee [spoke at a workshop] so there’s a lot of very well versed CUNY officials that come and speak to you on advocacy about CUNY finances and leadership. It’s a lot of everything. It’s a full day of hearing from incredible speakers,” continued Dornbaum.

During their time in office, delegates and alternates focus on specific problems affecting CUNY students and their colleges and are given the opportunity to meet with city and state representatives to discuss solutions for them. The retreat led workshops to prepare USS students to speak to city and state representatives about the issues CUNY students face.

“Senior Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson led the workshop ‘How to Lobby like a Pro.’ He talked about how to speak to your representatives, how to lead a group of students into a district office or into an office up in Albany or a legislative office down at City Hall and clearly ask your representative what you need,” said Dornbaum.

In reference to lobbying, Dornbaum said he learned that setting up a specific timeline is key.

“You need to match [your time in office] up with the state legislature and the city legislature to find the perfect times when to lobby, when to be very active, when we are going to be making trips up to Albany and when we’re going to be making trips down to City Hall. Because the elections are in November you have to plan your year out. You have a very limited time to figure out what you want and then ask for it,” said Dornbaum.

Qodirov said he got the chance to meet with the representatives that will help with the problems USS is focusing on this year.

“I had an opportunity to converse with CUNY board of trustees who I’m planning to work [with] on bringing financial aid and scholarships to international students and as well, if successful, finding ways to help to reduce their tuition since they pay around $9,000 for 5-three-credit classes which I believe in some ways are a rip off,” said Qodirov.

“There are many other issues we as USS working on. All CUNY schools are supposed to increase the tuition for in-state, out-of-state [students] to $300 every year and that’s when USS is fighting to freeze tuition and hopefully make it free,” continued Qodirov.

Another issue USS students are working on are budget cuts across senior CUNY colleges. According to a CUNY operating budget packet given out to USS students at the leadership retreat, the fiscal year 2015-2016 tax-levy operating budget for CUNY including senior, community, graduate and professional schools totals $3.2 billion.

For fiscal year 2015-2016, 52 percent of funding is state aid, 1 percent is city support and 47 percent is from tuition and other revenue totaling $2,336 billion in funding for senior colleges.

The senior colleges have seen an increase of 3.5 percent or $77.9 million in funding over the past year but funding has been cut in other areas that are affecting students.

“For senior colleges, although the total amount of our budget went up from last year, we were cut in mandatory expenditures by $51 million, so that chunk is missing,” said Dornbaum.

“That’s why we’re seeing at the campus level cuts in our library like textbook reserves … On the campus, we’re looking to try and fill those holes because these are programs that our students love and they’re great,” Dornbaum affirmed.