The President’s Report: Jan. 4, 2017

Zack Thomas, Student Body President

Hello, my fellow Oakland University students!

I hope that you all had a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and/or Happy Holidays and a fantastic break!

I would like to take this President’s Report and do something new: Student Body Vice President Anders Engnell and I promised progress on several different platform pieces, and so I am going to highlight our progress this academic year.

A realistic parking solution

Number one on our platform was by far our most idealistic and difficult (though still achievable) piece. We said that we would fight for the students in making progress to alleviate the most apparent problem on campus through a realistic parking solution on OU’s campus. When we set out to alleviate some of the problem through our proposed “autocount” system, we encountered some resistance from the administration on our specific system, though we were all in agreement that parking needed some creative solutions.

We continued to have open conversations and planning sessions with administration and the students (in the form of our student survey). We fought against ideas of a $30-million parking structure that would add 1,000 spots (as this would bring about the need for a fee-based parking system costing hundreds of dollars per car) and against the unrestrained growth of OU, which is the fastest-growing university in the state of Michigan, but for what reason?

Resulting from these conversations and planning systems, we have currently arrived at a $7-million solution that would expand existing parking lots by 800-1,000 spots, providing a huge relief and allowing us to continue without parking fees in the majority of parking spots. Additionally, we have resolved to optimize our existing Bear Bus system by creating Point A-Point B routes that lead directly from far-away parking lots to housing units and classrooms at peak points during the day (like heading to classrooms 10 mins before classes). Lastly, we are planning on introducing a carpool-incentive system to encourage OU people to drive together, thus reducing the amount of cars on campus.

Administrative transparency and accountability

Number two on our platform was and IS equally important: administrative transparency and accountability. Our campaign’s primary drive and mantra, “serving students first,” was created in response to students feeling like their administration had left them behind and were leaving us out of major decisions. So, the administration saw how strongly our campaign resonated with the student-voters (thanks entirely to you!) and reached out to us to avoid controversy.

Additionally, since communication is a two-way street, we have made sure to have a student-representative at every meeting where administrative decision-making occurs. From that, we have seen such successes as the university’s $0.75 minimum wage increase to $9.25 (well ahead of the state minimum, and we are the only university in Michigan to take such measures in response to the Affordable Care Act), a petition that helped to preserve our Campus Student Organic Farm, a petition that obtained 1,500 signatures that persuaded the administration to significantly reduce Winter College expenditures and the Board of Trustees to not take an expensive retreat each year, and the restoration of student members on the Presidential Search Committee.

Social justices

Third, we identified certain areas where there was structural inequality for certain populations on campus. Thus, we promised social justice fixes for the campus community. Particularly, we focused on a couple of select communities, including the LGBTIQA+ community and the disabled community.

First, Anders and I stated that we would lead a university-wide change to institute a “Preferred Name Policy” that benefits the LGBTIQA+ community by allowing transgender and gender nonconforming students to go by the name they identify with to prevent “outing” in the classroom, on the graduation stage and via email. This benefits other communities, too. Some international students choose to go by an English name that makes them feel more comfortable and at home in the OU community, and some victims/survivors of sexual assault like to increase their safety by going by an alias of their choosing.

We’re happy to say that we have accomplish this feat and administration has helped to incorporate this policy on MySAIL and Moodle (which includes class rosters), in Housing and via email. This has been implemented in phases – the ultimate phase starting in the New Year. We also resolved to SAFE train our entire staff through the Gender and Sexuality Center, something we accomplished in the summer.

Additionally, it’s no secret that accessibility on campus was and is a major issue. We identified several places that needed structural fixes, including the Oakland Center, Meadow Brook Drive in between Oak View and Vandenberg Halls, the Bear Lake bridge, etc.

We successfully fixed these areas: the administration reallocated $3 million in additional revenue to enhance accessibility in the OC expansion, the crosswalks between Oak View and Vandenberg have been realigned, and sidewalk cracks in highly populated areas around campus have been fixed, including on the bridge. In addition, door weights have been recalibrated to be legally compliant and several automatic door push-pads have been repaired.

Student voice

Next, we promised to amplify the student voice by registering 525 people to vote through our own organization. To do this, we utilized paper registrations during events and high-traffic times in the OC and a 24/7, mostly online voter registration service called TurboVote.

These numbers are among the best we have seen. We nearly doubled the last election year’s numbers and increased last fall’s numbers by a factor of seven.

We also expanded the amount of students who could vote absentee by providing guidance and mailing services to absentee voter applications.

Other goals

There have been several other non-primary goals that we have achieved. These include outdoor recycling bins, the Active Grizzly Program (which has increased attendance at student organization events), increased number of blue light poles, community engagement through inclusive art projects, diversity events like Dabke Night and providing free swag and scantrons for students — without running out!

As always, Anders, OU Student Congress and I seek to represent you to the best of our ability as YOUR elected student officials. We welcome and encourage input and would be happy to answer any and all questions at our public meetings and/or at our email at [email protected]!

Sincerely,

Zack Thomas