Where has student council been?
Student council, or StuCo, is the body of students that represent the interests of students at large here at Bethel. But we haven’t heard much from them so far this year. There haven’t been many announcements of events or other StuCo functions since the elections near the beginning of the semester.
StuCo is separated into three groups: upper and lowerclassmen councils and an executive council. The full council meets every other week, and on the off weeks, each council meets individually.
So with all these meetings, what’s StuCo been working on? I talked with student body president A.J. Reynolds about what’s going on this semester.
“We got hit with 17 percent budget cuts across the board,” he said, right from the outset of our interview. “Departments got hit, different activities and different sub-parts of Bethel College. I mean, pretty much across the board, if it had Bethel College’s name attached to it, there was about a 17 percent budget cut with it.”
So right from the start, he made one challenge very clear: he’s working with the lowest StuCo budget ever in Bethel history, since that 17 percent cut took away about $3,000 of their budget.
However, even though the budget has been cut fairly significantly, Reynolds told me that they haven’t taken any money away from student clubs because of it.
“We didn’t take a single dollar away from the area of club grants,” he said. “So this still allows money to be used on this campus for social activities (and) club activities, which every major club only gets its funding from its individual resources, inside fundraising and student council. So, we felt that that was significant enough that we needed to keep that funding in that area the same.”
Aside from budget cuts and their consequences, StuCo is in the midst of another rather large enterprise, according to Reynolds.
“We are currently revising the by-laws of student council, which is kind of a huge undertaking in itself," he said, chuckling. “Dr. (Eric) Oglesbee wrote the vast majority of the by-laws, and it’s been really good, and they’ve had their time, but with Dr. Oglesbee now transitioning off of this college next semester… we’re looking to make sure that we have by-laws that are sustainable, and that can continue for the next couple of years.”
The by-laws were last updated in 2009, and Reynolds acknowledged their longevity, especially in the world of academia, where nothing truly lasts forever.
Reynolds said that many of the revisions will be changing the language and adding a few clauses to open up opportunities for students. One such change that’s planned is changing the requirement that the student representative-at-large be a senior. Reynolds, along with his two predecessors Jordan Holmes and Jacob Busscher, has suspended that clause, allowing juniors to be elected to that office.
Another clause that Reynolds has suspended is one that requires the underclassman president to be a sophomore.
He expects these changes to take at least until Christmas, since the revisions need the approval of two-thirds of the student council as well as two-thirds of the college president’s cabinet.
Reynolds mentioned that, though nothing has been officially announced, all councils have been planning events for students. The underclassman council is looking to cooperate with Campus Activities to schedule a corn maze event for students, and possibly hosting another “Hunger Games” movie night, similar to the one they did for the release of “Mockingjay: Part 1.”
As for the upperclassman council, they’re working on this year’s senior gift. They haven’t decided what it’s going to be just yet, but Reynolds said they’re hosting a public forum on November 2nd to discuss ideas. He encouraged students to attend.
StuCo also just ratified the constitution for a brand-new club on campus: the American Enterprise Institute Club.
“That’s going to start hopefully fostering business leaders,” said Reynolds.
StuCo also granted a club request from the Company, Bethel’s theatre club, for them to go to KCACTF, a national theatre festival. And the full council has only met three times so far.
A more serious change being considered by the council, along with the Academic Policy Core Curriculum (APCC), a council composed of department chairs, vice president for academic services Barb Bellefeuille, Bowen Library director Mark Root and vice president for adult and graduate studies Toni Pauls), is possibly bringing down the current required 54 hours of core liberal arts classes to only 52 or 51 hours. Reynolds mentioned possibly eliminating a foreign language credit or Logic and Critical Thinking to do this. He also stated that Bible classes such as Old Testament or New Testament Literature are safe from being cut.
An interesting point about APCC: it’s a major part of our institution, dealing with classes and majors and their success or failure and how they fit in with Bethel’s vision and values.
“Very quickly it starts dealing with faculty and their jobs,” said Reynolds. “Very quickly it starts dealing with budget cuts, very quickly it starts dealing with the values of the college.”
Student council used to have a voting member in APCC, but that was changed. As such, Bellefeuille decided to meet with representatives from StuCo after each APCC meeting so they could stay informed as to what’s going on in those areas.
StuCo also interacts with administration in ways that don’t necessarily counter administration policies, but may disagree with them and raise awareness for student opinions on those policies.
“We actually were able to raise a petition two years ago about the dancing policies, and have some forums and have some open discussion about that,” said Reynolds.
He also cited the forums on Bethel’s human origins policy, homosexuality policy, and even the campus’ food as other issues StuCo has had a hand in.
Another major concern for Reynolds is fostering leadership for next year. He mentioned it multiple times during our interview, and he elaborated on it in this way:
“I’m also looking to really foster and cultivate leadership, especially in underclass,” he said. “The vast majority of student council this year is seniors. And so that’s going to put a heavy challenge and a heavy burden on underclass to then step up.”
Every member of the executive council, as well as three out of five members of the upperclassman council, are graduating seniors, so all of those slots must be filled as well.
With all of these issues keeping StuCo running at full steam, the question remains: is StuCo actually acknowledged by any students? After all, they’re our governing body, but are students fully aware, or even care about, what they do in all those meetings?
“The vast majority of the things that student council does affect a student on any given day, and not a student knows that,” Reynolds stated, after pondering my question for a moment. “And I’m okay with that. And the reason I’m okay with that is because not a single member of student council does what we do to get recognition for it. We’re a voice (for) the students to the administration, and there are things that are happening every single day in the administration that affect the students.”
Reynolds said that the administration works hard to listen to students, but that it’s just impractical for them to actively pursue and collect student opinions from every classroom. That’s what StuCo is for: a way for administration to hear students’ voices in a practical format.
As a final question, I asked Reynolds what about the council made him proud. And he had quite a bit to say on it:
“I’m most proud of the council in its ability to hold itself as the leaders of this campus,” he began. “And hold itself in a very respectable, stoic kind of mindset. This is an important job. Not a lot of students know about it, not a lot of students care, but there’s a lot of impact, there’s a lot of voice that is coming from student council. Just about anything from the students that needs to formally go to the administration has to go to student council first. Just about anything that the administration wants to know what the students’ input is goes through student council first. This is the great liaison. And so I’m most proud of how the council members are able to hold themselves with such respect and dignity and self-composure in a lot of ways. Every single one of them is a leader."