From the Emirates: University Senate moves for NYUAD seat despite GA concerns

Connor Pearce, The Gazelle Opinion Editor

Illustration by Megan Eloise/The Gazelle

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Issue 36 of The Gazelle, the student publication at NYU Abu Dhabi. It has been reprinted with permission as a part of an ongoing collaboration between The Gazelle and WSN to connect our two campuses.

The NYU University Senate passed an amendment on April 17 that recommended the Board of Trustees create a senator’s position on the Student Senators Council for NYU Abu Dhabi. This comes following a motion on April 13 by the NYU Abu Dhabi General Assembly requesting the representative bodies in New York to hold off on proposing this amendment.

The motion sent read: “The NYUAD Student Government formally requests that the NYU-NY SSC does not vote on the enfranchisement of NYU Abu Dhabi through the Senatorial position until approval thereby into the NYUAD Student Constitution.”

As a result of the motion, Student Government sent a communiqué to the chair of the Student Senators Council, Mariam Ehrari. Unaware that the amendment was to be voted on by the University Senate, the GA drafted its message asking the SSC not to move on the amendment until the Abu Dhabi student body had time to deliberate. This amendment is part of an amendment package incorporating NYU Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and the Polytechnic School of Engineering with senatorial positions on the Student Senators Council.

Following a discussion with Ehrari, Student Government President Mohammed Omar sent out an email announcing that the communiqué was not forwarded to the University Senate: “we decided it best not to release this statement to the University Senate.”

Omar explained that because this statement would have preceded the final meeting of the University Senate in this academic year, there was a possibility of jeopardizing the passage of the rest of the amendment package.

News of Ehrari and Omar’s decision to not forward the communiqué was delivered via the above-mentioned email to active members of the GA on April 17, just under eight hours before the University Senate meeting began.

Although this does not mean that NYUAD now has a representative on the Student Senators Council, the Board of Trustees acts upon recommendations from the University Senate and usually approves them.

As to whether there is still any possibility of NYUAD not having a senator, senior and a current senator-at-large representing NYUAD Juan Felipe Beltran said, “That ship has sailed.”

The amendment, a suggestion to the Board of Trustees, is to have a senator on the NYU Student Senators Council, the highest elected student body in NYU. Currently, the Council is made up of representatives from each of the schools at NYU, with the exception of the newly-incorporated NYU Poly and senators at-large, who represent constituencies not covered by the schools.

The primary difference between the proposal and the representation as it stands is that a senator would be able to vote on amendments and motions and would now represent all of NYUAD and not only those students studying away on the Square.

Some members of the student body have taken issue with the proposal because it was brought for the first time to the April 13 General Assembly and was not yet voted on by NYUAD students.

Senior Brett Bolton, who served as senator-at-large in the Fall 2013 semester, said “[the SSC] should have brought us in much earlier than they did. We should have known before it [got to] to the Senate.”

Beltran said, “For decisions as big as these, the GA should have been informed of what was happening.”

In response to the email from Omar, Beltran said, “I want details … informing the student body why it was a bad idea [to not release the statement] instead of saying, ‘Chair Ehrari and I decided’ because at the end of the day, he shouldn’t be making unilateral decisions for the GA.”

An initial concern raised by students at the General Assembly last Sunday was whether this position would cause unnecessary overlap with the establishment of the Global Senators Council, GSC, a new body designed to be an inter-campus student representative body, with Global Vice Presidents from each of the portal campuses.

“When you’re a Global Vice President as part of the GSC, it’s different [from the SCC] as you’re representing the best interests [of the] Global Network University [rather than your individual campus],” said Student Government’s Officer of External Affairs, Benjamin Jance IV. He added that “on its face there isn’t too much overlap: however, this could definitely be an issue moving forward.”

Natalie McCauley, an NYU New York student studying abroad in Abu Dhabi did not see the overlap as an issue. McCauley said, “I think that all representation is good representation.”

Bolton added, “The thing about us being on the SSC means the SSC both represents NYU Abu Dhabi, and NYU Abu Dhabi represents NYU Abu Dhabi on the GSC.”

He added, “There is certainly [an] overlap, [however] our government is way more active in terms [of] day-to-day functioning of the university than New York is … I think that there would be very little overlap in terms of what [the SSC and GSC] actually do but only because the SSC really doesn’t do that much in terms of the functioning of the university.”

The effectiveness of adding another position onto the SSC was also questioned. Jance said, “It may add another level of complexity when addressing issues.”

Another topic of contention has been whether it is relevant for NYUAD students to have a vote in the SSC as it primarily focuses on giving budgetary recommendations to the Board of Trustees.

Beltran also noted that NYUAD’s funding comes from the government of Abu Dhabi while NYUNY sources of funding are primarily tuition and other sources. Bolton said, “We have no horse in this race because we’re not running on the same budget.”

McCauley saw the issue differently. She said, “I think that anything that is happening at NYU in the greater sense in relevant to everyone in NYU … It’ll be part of the Abu Dhabi life, going to New York, so it does matter.”

Beltran, speaking of his time as a member of the SSC and following  his participation on the University Senate, questioned whether it would be a positive step for NYUAD students to take. He said, “There are really aggressive people in the Faculty Senators Council [and] all we’re doing is driving another thorn in [President John Sexton’s] side by making him have to defend having an Abu Dhabi senator.”

This was not a sentiment shared by all, however, as McCauley noted, “In my experience there hasn’t been hostility to anything global network related in any of the University Senate meetings I’ve been to.” She added, “The talk of people being against Abu Dhabi, I don’t see that.”

Students ultimately disagreed over whether the proposal was a positive step. Jance said that the position would allow for greater influence with issues on the Square, although he cautioned that this would involve being beholden to a different governance structure than what is in place in Abu Dhabi.

“Having a senator from NYU Abu Dhabi in the SSC is a patently bad idea,” said Beltran. He described the current avenues for student representation on the Square as adequate and pointed to the already significant communication between the Abu Dhabi and New York student governments.

On Monday, April 21, the NYU Abu Dhabi Student Government is holding a town hall to discuss representation on the Student Senators Council in New York. This is the result of the motion passed at the April 13 General Assembly to convene a town hall after a discussion of the proposal. Omar will be talking with President Sexton on Sunday to further clarify NYUAD’s position.

Connor Pearce is opinion editor. Email him at connor@thegazelle.org.

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