By Anna Liz Thomas
Topics discussed: Interim Governance, Housing Union, COVID-extensions, and joining the Swiss National Student Union
The first GISA Town Hall for Spring 2022 was held on March 18 2022. The meeting was presided by Aishwarya Tendolkar (GISA President),Kevin Jura (GISA Administrative Director), and Lorena Villavicencio (VP for Master’s Programmes). The Town Hall saw low participation, with about 8 students in attendance, both online, and in person.
The Agenda for this edition of the Town Hall was to provide updates on Interim Governance, the establishment of the Housing Union, the possibility of joining the Swiss Student Union, and to provide updates on the MINT and MADIS Programmes.
Kevin began by providing an overview of the Interim Governance structure as it currently stands. There are currently five sub-groups or working groups within the larger Interim Governance structure. These sub-groups are currently working on Housing, Intranet, Governance, Student Code of Conduct, and a Digital Code of Conduct. All of the sub-groups have 12 members, with 4 members from the Direction and Administrative Staff, 4 members of Faculty, and 4 members from the student body. The 4 student body members are 1 GISA Board member, 1 member of the AdA (Assistants Association), 1 Class Representative from the Master’s Programme, and 1 class representative from the PhD Programme. An exception to the rule is the working group for the Digital Code of Conduct, where two of the four student representatives are from the GISA Technology and Security Initiative.
Kevin also highlighted that all working groups are currently at early stages, and therefore current conversations are confidential. However, there will be a stage, before the release of the final product, wherein students and faculty will be invited to give input and feedback. Tentatively, this stage will take place at the end of April, or the beginning of May. In the meantime, any students who wish to provide inputs, can do so by reaching out to the GISA Board at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by individually speaking to Kevin, Lorena, or Aishwarya.
Following the meeting of a preliminary session with the larger interim governance body, on Thursday, the 17th of March, a few updates on the roles and responsibilities of each working group were provided. In brief, the working group on Housing will work to improve living conditions, staff interactions, and security. They will also address the standardisation of policies and procedures for subletting, as well as having overnight guests (in a context where outright prohibitions on having overnight guests have been seen by students to be an infringement into their personal and private lives). The group working on Intranet is currently undertaking the set up of faculty and student landing pages, which will be more comprehensive and interconnected. The Governance working group is trying to find a way forward to restructure governance at the Institute, so that all three parties (students, faculty and administrative staff) are adequately represented within the new arrangement. Few updates were provided about the Code of Conduct , given that it is still in early stages, however, two hour weekly meetings are currently taking place.
It was also noted that all final policies, documents and directives will be bilingual. Lorena and Aishwarya spoke about how the working groups have been a good segue for student participation and interaction with the administration and the faculty at the Institute. Lorena highlighted that this was, in fact, creating the only space where professors, the Direction and student body are in the same room, and that they have been trying to get familiarised with each other’s work and how each body functions, and the people that they represent. She noted that while it was still very preliminary, it has also been quite positive thus far.
Aishwarya then began discussing the work underway with the setting up of the Housing Union. Currently there is no student representative outside of GISA to deal with the large housing issues faced by students. The current plan is to formulate an ad hoc committee of students interested in hashing out the structure of the potential Housing Union. A possibility that has been discussed has been a membership fee for students who want to be in the housing union, which can then fund the housing union representative. Aishwarya emphasised that the representation in the context of housing would be all the more needed by June, given that lots more students would be arriving in September.
The plan is to currently float a call for individuals to join a Specialised Committee (along the lines of the Welfare Committee, the Environmental Committee, and the Professional Development Committee), which will then become part of the Housing Union.This Committee will formally be part of GISA, but will only deal with students’ housing related concerns, in order to free up the rest of the GISA Board’s time which currently often gets diverted to deal with housing concerns. The GISA Board is still in the process of figuring out with the Institute if any remuneration can be provided for the head of this new specialised committee, especially since the job will require the individual to be present and hands-on to deal with all student housing concerns. This specialised committee will then come up with their individual roles, though it was stressed that it would be the students of the Institute residing at the Grand-Morillon and Picciotto residences that will also need to decide on this subject. Aishwarya also mentioned that they had been attempting to set up Residence Assistants since last Spring, however talks about this with the Administration fell through, since the administration kept delaying the matter citing reasons such as the need to first have a Residence Director in place. It was also noted with surprise that despite the many student complaints regarding housing, only around six or seven individuals showed up for the meeting to discuss setting up the Housing Union. A more detailed email in the context of the Housing Union is awaited.
MINT and MADIS updates
Lorena provided updates on surveys sent out to MINT and MADIS students in the context of internship credits and COVID extensions. A survey sent to MADIS students indicated that they, as a majority, wished to be able to obtain internship credits along the same lines as MINT students currently do. A proposal in this context was approved by the Administration, but currently the timeline for when this reform will be implemented is ambiguous. It is also unsure if they will undergo the same process MINT students follow.
With respect to COVID extensions, current proposals include a semester extension, and an extension until the 1st of August. These extensions have been proposed in the context of how a majority of students in the 2nd year of Master’s Programmes are still taking courses, and that many students need to undertake fieldwork in contexts where countries still have COVID-related lockdowns and restrictions. Surveys to assess student interest in relation to COVID extensions are open till March 25th, which will then be submitted to the Academic Committee on March 26. It is hoped that a response will be received before the Spring break.
Discussions during the Master’s Forum have brought to light other needs including keeping the library and cafeteria open for longer hours, especially during the weekend, questions about how current students may be impacted by the MINT Reform, the need for more language courses, and the extension of the master’s programme for more than two years. Student responses in this context are also being sought through the survey.
Swiss Student Union Updates
Kevin and Aishwarya met with one of the executive board members of the Swiss Student Union to discuss how GISA may join them. Aishwarya noted that this is going to be a big decision, since it would cost each individual of the student community roughly 2 CHF per year, along with additional expenses to send individuals to the Union’s meetings. While the GISA community had voted on a proposal to join the Swiss Student Union last Fall, joining the Union will also mean that GISA’s budget gets reduced, which could also mean a corresponding fall in the budgets of Student Initiatives.
A more detailed email highlighting the costs and benefits of joining the Swiss Student Union is awaited. The mail will also discuss alternate means for fund raising, and whether it may be possible to join without additional funds for GISA. A former GISA Board member spoke of how in the past, when student initiatives did not receive funding, a contribution box was placed within the Institute in order to raise funds, and suggested that a similar mechanism could be implemented. While possibilities do exist for fundraising, Aishwarya emphasised that this decision needed to be made by the whole student body, and that therefore they would need a specific threshold of votes in order to determine whether or not to join. The last date to apply for Union membership is the last day of the academic year, and therefore a decision would need to be made before then. Finally in relation to a question about whether the incoming batch of students would have more stakes in the Union membership than the current graduating batch, Aishwarya agreed, and said that they were trying to also work on whether, and how, to include the incoming batch in the context of this decision.
Meeting with the Foundation Board
A final point discussed was a meeting that had taken place with the President and Vice President of the Institute’s Foundation. A long-time ask for GISA had been membership within the Foundation’s Board. However, in response to this, the temporary nature of GISA Board members was cited. The Foundation’s Board usually has members serve over a four year time frame, while GISA Board members rotate every year. However this is not an unresolvable issue, given that it is possible for a PhD student at the Institute to serve as student representation at the Foundation, given the long term nature of the PhD Programme, in comparison to the Master’s Programmes. Other subjects discussed at the meeting included GISA’s role, and independence, and student membership to it, and how important it is for students to be more actively involved in day to day activities of GISA. Detailed minutes of the meeting will be sent in this context.
The session concluded with an Open Forum, where students were welcomed to provide feedback and ask questions of the GISA Board. In the absence of any student input, a few further updates were provided by the GISA Board. The most important update was that the current Vice President for PhD Programmes would resign effective from April 9. The next election related email would also call for candidates interested in filling this role. The position would need to be occupied until the first few weeks of the next academic year, and a partial tuition waiver would be available to the selected candidate. In the interim period (from April 9th till the date of election of the new Vice-President), the possibility of an interim Vice President would be considered on the basis of need. The GISA Board also announced that the call for nominations for the Student Leadership Award would be made shortly. With this, the Town Hall was concluded.