Robust. If I had to describe the final meeting of the UPUA’s Ninth Assembly in one word, I’d call it robust, and that’s not just because it was President Anand Ganjam’s favorite buzzword over the course of his year in office. Nineteen items of legislation were passed on Wednesday evening as another chapter of Penn State’s undergraduate student government came to a close, the culmination of a controversial yet undeniably productive year for the UPUA.
“We’re here to protect the students, defend the students, and fight for the students even when nobody else is. That’s what I think about when I’m asked what UPUA does,” Ganjam said in his final speech to the assembly. “There are students struggling to make ends meet because of tuition levels. They are students who walk around campus and don’t feel safe because of the color of their skin or where they’re from. There are students who are not able to get the mental health resources they need. Our job is to never forget that.”
Ganjam thanked a number of people who inspired and assisted him the most during his time at Penn State and at the helm of the UPUA, from adviser Barry Bram to vice president Emily McDonald. Before concluding his speech, Ganjam choked up as he addressed the assembly one last time.
“I want to thank all of you, the assembly. You have each inspired me every single day. I know that all of you have given me so much more than I can ever give back,” he said. “I know I made my fair share of mistakes that I’ll linger on for years to come, but I hope that I have proven myself to all of you and to the Penn State community in some capacity. I hope that I’m leaving this university as a better place than it was when I first came to it.”
There’s no doubt that Ganjam and the Ninth Assembly reached some major accomplishments and successes over the last year, but my time to reflect and review what UPUA has done over the last year will have to wait for another time, because we first have a robust agenda to recap.
The assembly kicked off its new business with the confirmation of Melissa McCleery as the Deputy Commissioner of Elections Publicity by a vote of 30-3-1. Former Panhel president Meg DeMallie, who was previously voted down by the assembly for the same position, was in the room during the meeting. McCleery, who also writes for Onward State, is currently an At-Large Representative, at least until the April 1 elections.
The assembly powered through the packed legislative agenda after that, starting with Policy 14-09, which establishes a Penn State Legislative Outreach Commission, a joint initiative with CCSG and GPSA to formalize a process of student outreach to legislators. After passing the policy unanimously, the assembly moved on to Policy 15-09, which establishes a commission to work on implementing the Diversity and Inclusion Report. The policy passed unanimously.
UPUA also unanimously passed Resolution 34-09, supporting the prohibition of a program that gives less federal grant and aid funding to college education programs if their alumni go on to work in areas with lower test scores, which area typically low-income schools. Resolution 35-09, also unanimously passed, supports the Collegiate Housing and Infrastructure Act, which has been introduced to Congress every year since 2003. The legislation would eliminate a distinction in tax law that band tax-exempt charitable and educational organizations from making grants to non-university owned, not-for-profit student housing entities.
Resolution 36-09 takes an official stance against Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed tax on student fees, which the assembly feels is contradictory to Wolf’s support of better accessibility and affordability for higher education. The resolution passed unanimously, bringing Resolution 37-09 to the floor next, which supports the institutionalization of student engagement with the development and review of Penn State’s Strategic Plan. The resolution passed unanimously.
The most contentious item on the agenda was Resolution 38-09, which aimed to support the university divesting in fossil fuels. Members of Fossil Free PSU and students majoring in petroleum and natural gas engineering packed the meeting in hopes of lobbying for their respective sides on the resolution. Fossil Free PSU representatives argued that not only is supporting oil a negative on an ethical level, but that divesting in fossil fuels is also sound financially. Students looking to enter the field said that the university should support an industry that thrives in Pennsylvania thanks to Marcellus Shale, and they worry that Penn State will lose investors from the industry if it divests. It was all for naught, however, as the assembly decided to recommit the legislation to Governmental Affairs by a vote of 32-3-1.
The assembly then unanimously supported the creation of a shuttle to Innovation Park, the integration of LionSearch within ANGEL, and the recommendations in the Diversity and Inclusion Report in resolutions 39-09 through 41-09. Three more resolutions were also unanimously passed, supporting President Barron’s acceptance of recommendations from the sexual assault task force, an initiative to create a student farm, and Barron’s statement on the KDR situation in which he called for a review of the Greek system.
Bill 13-09 establishes the Penn State Night of Remembrance, which will be held on April 16 at 7 p.m. on the Old Main steps to remember Penn State students who passed away over the previous year. The event, held in conjunction with the university, will continue on an annual basis at the end of each academic year.
Resolution 45-09, calling for transparency within IT security at the university, passed unanimously. That was followed by Resolution 46-09, an update to an old UPUA resolution on the undergraduate student body’s priorities that are in need of attention from the Student Technology Advisory Committee.
And after all that, there were still three items left to discuss on the agenda. Bill 14-09 funds testimonial booklets for Capitol Day, which will allow the assembly to better represent students when heading to Harrisburg. Bill 15-09 funds two Fullington buses to transport students to Capitol Day.
And the last piece of legislation heard by the Ninth Assembly was Resolution 47-09, the Kathleen Purcell Clean Air Bill. This charges the university with reviewing the effects of cigarette smoke on campus in order to reevaluate current smoking policies at Penn State with the possibility of a smoke-free campus in mind.
With that, the UPUA’s Ninth Assembly adjourned for the last time at 10:55 p.m.