'07-'08 leaders decry slow pace of change

The current Duke Student Government Executive Board does not adjourn until April 23, but board members are beginning to reflect on the ups and downs of their past year in office.

Although their term has seen a number of successes, current leaders cited the slow pace of institutional change as one recurring obstacle to fully reaching their platform goals this year.

"What I might say to next year's president is, 'You'll be profoundly amazed at the pace of institutional change, and no matter what you think, no, there's not one right argument or one more memo you could send that would make it go any faster,'" said DSG President Paul Slattery, a senior. "But it's still entirely possible to accomplish a lot of positive things if you're willing to be patient and deal with the fact that you're on a one-year term and the institution is not."

The annual changeover of DSG positions greatly affects the progress and efficacy of the organization, board members said.

"One weakness of DSG is that people graduate or quit, and there is not enough institutional memory to allow vice presidents to continue projects over several years," said senior Gina Ireland, vice president for academic affairs.

But projects can be carried over to the next year, some board members said.

Incoming Executive Vice President Sunny Kantha, vice president for athletics and campus services and a junior, said one of the chief reasons he ran for the position was to ensure that his ongoing projects are completed, which include renovating the Central Campus tennis courts and implementing a meal-equivalency plan for freshmen to use at the Great Hall.

Moreover, Slattery said he and Dean of Undergraduate Education Steve Nowicki plan to co-sign a document outlining ongoing projects at the end of the year to pass on institutional knowledge and ensure that projects are eventually finished. Among the major projects highlighted in the document will be the underloading policy-allowing undergraduates to take less than four classes during a semester-the revision of pass-fail policies and the strengthening of majors' unions.

Senior Genevieve Cody, vice president for community interaction, noted that DSG's short term also creates a disconnect with the administration, which operates on a much longer time frame.

"Sometimes it's difficult to connect with administrators simply because students are seen as much more transient than individuals working at the University," she said.

Along with the limitations of a one-year term, officers said the slow pace at which projects are completed is another added frustration.

A number of projects accomplished this year-like the Flunches program, which facilitates faculty-student interaction, and the transfer of party-monitor training online-took several months to implement despite the seemingly simpler nature of the projects, Slattery said.

Ireland noted that persistence is perhaps most essential when grappling with University officials.

"The mantra for at least some administrators is to say no first, say yes after repeated follow ups and finally do something after yet more extensive conversation-at which point you've reached the middle of your term and work on implementation hasn't even begun," she said.

Additionally, a greater vision for more long-term, conceptual issues-like space for student organizations-may be at the expense of more visible achievements.

"You develop patience so you realize you have to take smaller projects or have drastically lower expectations on larger projects," said sophomore Lucy McKinstry, vice president for student affairs. "It's just a conflict between taking on bigger ideas versus tangible results."

But the bigger ideas are often the best ones, she added.

Planning ahead and sending memos early in the year, as this year's Executive Board often did, are ways at least some of those large-scale goals can be reached, McKinstry said.

Slattery said major accomplishments so far include the creation of new event registration policies, the initiation of the judicial affairs task force and a research help-wanted Web site that connects students with research opportunities, which launched Friday.

Although he entered his term expecting change to come slowly, Slattery said this year has frequently reiterated how complicated it can be to move forward with projects-particularly when the institution devises "fantastic and interesting ways to create new tiny little steps between point A and point B to delay the process."

In the end, however, Slattery acknowledged that he was unsure how to best deal with this slow pace of change.

"That's the curse of the DSG president-it's a one-year term in an institution that is so forward-thinking it actually still has a Gothic chapel," he said.


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