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OPINION 2/17/15 6:00pm

SJP meetings should not be secret affairs

In Fall 2012, Olivia Hansen, a former Rice student, wrote an op-ed claiming she was mistreated by members of the university administration when she attempted to file harassment complaints against an abusive partner, and was subsequently forced to withdraw from Rice. While the university claimed this withdrawal was for her emotional well-being, Hansen maintains that it was Rice’s attempt to silence an unhappy student to protect its reputation and quality-of-life rankings. Following Hansen’s alleged mistreatment, the student body lost a great deal of trust in the administration’s ability to adjudicate judicial matters and maintain student well-being; some of this skepticism and mistrust persists more than two years later.As a whole, the university has made tremendous strides to attempt to address student concerns and regain trust in well-being and judicial matters. In fact, Student Judicial Programs — one of the bodies Hansen alleges was involved in her mistreatment — underwent seemingly sweeping changes following Hansen’s allegations, including hiring a new director, Lisa Zollner.While I applaud the administration for the strides they have made, I am troubled by a recent trend within SJP that has greatly undercut student confidence in the institution. On April 24, 2014, the Thresher published an article alleging rampant mistreatment of students by SJP staff. Since this article’s publication, numerous rumors have persisted as students — past and present — have come forward to testify to the same crass, disrespectful and threatening treatment at the hands of SJP.Students who feel that they have been unfairly treated may file a complaint with Dean Hutchinson. However, SJP meetings are private, and students cannot record the exchange or bring a witness to the meeting, such as a Master or resident associate. This lack of documentation makes any student accusation of SJP an immediate he-said-she-said matter that is nearly impossible to prove.However, if repeated student claims of abuse are truly fictitious, and the methods used by SJP staff are as benign as the administration claims, why not increase transparency to assuage student concerns? Dean Hutchinson is currently the only check on SJP, and given repeated and continued student complaints, this check is clearly not enough. Thus, the administration should address these concerns directly by allowing students to record or bring a silent witness to SJP meetings. Such actions will not interfere with official proceedings, but will help ensure that students are treated with basic respect and dignity.SJP plays a tremendously important role on Rice’s campus — as it should. Ensuring that safety is maintained should be a top priority for the administration and student body alike. However, the recent decline of student trust in SJP has negatively impacted its ability to effectively execute its duties and has compromised the confidence it has regained since Hansen’s op-ed.SJP’s job is difficult enough when students have confidence in the institution, but it becomes infinitely more complicated when this relationship becomes adversarial. While the outcomes of SJP proceedings are not always in line with student desires, the student body must at least feel that they can trust in the fairness and legitimacy of the process.

OPINION 2/12/15 2:34am

The Thresher endorses Jazz Silva for SA president

The Student Association presidential debate revealed a clear choice for SA president. After responding to questions from the Thresher editorial staff and the audience, Sid Richardson College Senator Jazz Silva emerged as the most viable candidate. Though Lovett College Senator Aishwarya Thakur and Jones College Treasurer Sandra Blackmun showed passion for issues of importance to Rice students, Silva inspired confidence in her ability to enact change on these issues through the SA.

OPINION 2/10/15 6:00pm

Botched election timeline ensures uninformed votes

The Student Association presidential debate, initially scheduled for Monday, is instead being held today, Wednesday, Feb. 11 in the Kyle Morrow room in Fondren Library at 8 p.m. in place of the SA senate meeting. The SA initially planned to host the SA presidential debate on Monday, before elections began. However, according to SA President Ravi Sheth, the debate was moved to Wednesday to increase the event’s turnout.  Additionally, the SA did not release official information for all general election candidates until Monday, less than 24 hours before the ballot opened. Director of Elections Austin Cao said the registrar’s new requirement that all candidates must release information indicating good academic standing forced the SA to delay releasing candidate information. While the Thresher understands exigent circumstances forced the SA to make changes to the elections timeline, these changes have negatively impacted the student body’s knowledge of the candidates and issues. By creating such a large window of time between the start of elections and the debate, framed in an already short voting period, the SA effectively ensures uninformed voting.  Moreover, the idea that delaying the debate will increase turnout to the event is flawed. Sheth’s decision to hold the debate during the scheduled Senate meeting time because those who would typically attend the former will be available for the latter only guarantees that Senate members will be present. Considering Senate members are typically at the forefront of Rice leadership, it is reasonable to expect these individuals to make time to attend the debate regardless of its scheduling. The debate should be scheduled at a time that is most convenient for the entire student body as opposed to a time that appeals to a niche group already engaged in student government. Consistently low voter turnout plagues the SA general elections. Increasing turnout is a responsibility that currently falls upon candidates themselves; however, candidates have their own interests in mind, and although they may contribute towards increasing turnout, they are more focused on becoming elected than sustaining a positive culture surrounding voting. We have long treated low turnout as an inherent problem without a solution, but the truth is that the SA has not yet attempted a solution.  Evidently, elections deserve greater attention from SA leadership. For the sake of its own future, the SA must expand the role of the elections committee to include ensuring a smooth elections timeline and instilling students with a strong sense of civic duty. Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the Thresher editorial staff. All other opinion pieces represent solely the opinion of the piece’s author.

OPINION 2/10/15 6:00pm

I will show you the SA's power

It is a very frustrating time to run for a position in the Student Association. For the past few weeks, I have been walking around campus trying to convince people that I’m capable of running the most powerful student organization on campus. From Facebook spam to “Get Jazzy On It” t-shirts, I’ve been trying to market myself and my campaign. But at the end of the day, I know most Rice students don’t give a damn about a cute flyer. You want to make sure that the 50K you pay a year goes toward a university worth your money. For those students still choosing who to give their vote to, I write this to assure you that I would not run for SA president if I did not wholeheartedly know that I am the most qualified candidate.I am not running on future promises or hopes. I am only running on the platform that I have been holding myself to for this past year. You see something that needs to be fixed and you get that thing done. You don’t wait until someone else makes it a priority.  Parking has been a problem on campus for longer than I’ve been in attendance. So why haven’t we seen any changes until this year? It’s because this year the SA made it a priority. When you elect competent leaders, they do what it takes to command our community. I am not going to mindlessly criticize the SA. No one who’s ever been in the SA would argue that the we don’t have the power, influence, structure or resources to function. What needs to change is the fact that the rest of the student body believes that isn’t true. Roughly six people this week asked me what the SA even does. That’s not acceptable, and it is entirely the fault of the SA. It is not the job of a busy Rice student to find the campus-wide SA meetings, learn about the legislation on the agenda and then show up. The SA should go to the colleges, which is something they used to do. This is not just another election; you are choosing who will set the agenda for an entire year of legislation. When you cast your vote, you are actually choosing the problems that are going to get addressed. I am that person who will stand up for you, and I sincerely hope you trust me with your vote.

OPINION 2/10/15 6:00pm

Let’s improve the Rice experience

My three-point platform of advancing our experiences inside and outside the classroom, and looking ahead beyond Rice is rooted to what I see as the Rice experience. There’s a reason we consistently report being some of the happiest college students around, so there must be something here worth upholding. Whether that includes your appreciation for our self-governing 11 residential colleges, small class sizes, or available career-advancing opportunities, let’s work to maintain them — but also to advance them. Let’s find a way to view the SA not as a 12th college, but an extension of each of the colleges — a part of the student body that connects us all. Let’s fight back against the growing student population and urge administration and faculty to keep our class sizes small and education at its best. Let’s demand for more externship, internship, research and shadowing opportunities; let’s make it easier to connect with 100 years’ worth of alumni who have been in our exact befuddled, yet driven, shoes.With the knowledge of whom to contact and how to contact in the administration, you all have the power to ask for the changes you want to see; with our online petition system, you all even have the power to make those changes. Having been an active leader in the SA as an NSR and senator, I recognize that we need to increase the flow of information from you, the student body, to the administration, and vice versa. Let’s get everyone on the same page from the very beginning of every topic of discussion.With a vision of how to proceed and clear-cut goals, we can truly impact the faculty’s and administration’s thinking. What’s the best way we see fit to handle add/drop for registration? Is there a way students can access new parking spaces as well? Is a two-week spring break feasible for our culture, and how do we as students envision it to provide more opportunities for experiential learning, as we proposed in the Rice Education of the Future Initiative? Let’s work together and relay our ideas to the university.And, lastly, let’s just do it. These are not far-fetched ideas, but a list of concrete plans. Let’s fix what’s broken — such as how we allocate the blanket tax — and let’s better the education we receive. Voice your opinion with your vote and let’s advance the Rice experience together. 

OPINION 2/10/15 6:00pm

I want to create more leaders

My extensive experience in political television series has taught me a great deal about how to be an effective leader and how to empower others to create the significant change they want to see. But more importantly, my experience at Rice has given me the opportunity to meet incredible people, experience the amazing campus culture and to learn that everyone has a voice.I am running to be your next Student Association President because I see the potential of this organization. The SA is an amazing organization that allows us to truly make a change not only for our own undergraduate experience, but also for that of students to come. But something doesn’t add up. If you ask the average Rice student what the SA does, they are unable to tell you. To me, there are two main reasons why this is the case:1)    College and SA Relationship: I believe a current gap exists between the colleges and the SA, and my goal is to bridge this gap. With my college leadership background, I fundamentally understand the college government. I want to allow colleges to remain autonomous and run themselves but also to bring the two organizations together to create campus-wide changes.2)    Communication: Many people are unaware of what the SA actually does. I plan on increasing communication via social media, attending college cabinet/council meetings to create a direct relationship with students and increasing our relationship with the Thresher to publish even more to students.Together, we will make a change. I hope to empower you to make the difference you want to see. One of my favorite quotes in life has absolutely changed the way I work with others, and I hope you’ll know that I will lead with this belief: “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” We can all come together and elicit the changes we want to see in our university, but to do so, we need an SA President who knows both sides of the relationship between the SA and the colleges and who has a vision to empower you. I hope you’ll Stand with Sandra and see this vision become a reality. 

OPINION 2/4/15 3:49pm

Blanket Tax Crack Team proposal remedies current system’s failures

The SA Blanket Tax Crack Team has petitioned a revamp to the existing blanket tax system with a new “pot of gold” proposal. 200 student signatures are required for the petition to be included in the General Election ballot, where a 20 percent referendum and a two-thirds majority vote will put the measure into effect (see p.1). The Thresher strongly supports the Crack Team’s new proposal and encourages students to sign the petition and to vote for it in the General Election. Currently, organizations petition to qualify for blanket tax status and specify a requested amount of annual funding through a ballot in the General Election. If a blanket tax organization’s budget appears questionable in the Annual Review, they are brought to a Contingency Committee, which can determine if the organization has violated blanket tax laws and if a decrease in funding is warranted. The existing process has proven inefficient at and inconducive to encouraging fiscal responsibility among blanket tax organizations. Since a Contingency Committee must find three violations within a four-year period to decrease a violating organization’s blanket tax, it currently takes years to effect any change in funding, even if an organization demonstrates excessively large surpluses or fiscal irresponsibility. Fleeting institutional memory coupled with a bureaucratic quagmire renders the process infeasible; no subsidiary organization has ever seen a decrease in its funding. The “pot of gold” proposal, which calls for a standing committee, provides a welcome change to a broken system. The standing committee, to be comprised of students and advisors to subsidiary organizations, would predetermine which organizations qualify for priority funding and would conduct annual reviews on these organizations’ budgets. Additionally, new organizations can petition to become subsidiaries and qualify for priority status through the general ballot as before. The proposal also calls for surpluses higher than a predetermined amount to return to the “pot of gold” for use by other student organizations. The mechanisms outlined in this proposal will encourage fiscal responsibility in subsidiary organizations and will ensure student governance can preemptively address issues in blanket tax funding instead of undergoing a cumbersome process. Previous ballot measures have been defeated by a lack of quorum. The Thresher strongly encourages students to voice their support for the proposal by signing the Blanket Tax Crack Team’s petition and by voting for it in the upcoming General Election. If passed, the new measures usher in much-needed blanket tax reforms that promote greater fiscal responsibility and accountability among blanket tax organizations. Editor in Chief Miles Kruppa and Faculty Advisor Kelly Callaway are members of the Blanket Tax Crack Team. They did not contribute to this editorial. Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the Thresher editorial staff. All other opinion pieces represent solely the opinion of the piece’s author.

OPINION 1/28/15 7:21am

Ravi Writes In

As my term nears its completion, I wanted to reflect on the Student Association’s accomplishments over the next semester and write about what our focus will be in the remaining month. 

OPINION 1/28/15 7:20am

Rice must invest in instructors

Rice has a scalability problem. As undergraduate enrollment at Rice has grown rapidly in the past 10 years, many students and faculty have questioned if the undergraduate experience has lost part of its value: its educational intimacy (see p.1).

OPINION 1/21/15 4:36am

Student Association should not have to handle housing issues

At the most recent Student Association meeting, the SA senate discussed legislation guaranteeing on-campus housing for Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps members (see p.1). Supporters argued that the midshipmen’s early-starting, rigorous schedule and service to the nation justified the guarantee. Those in opposition felt on-campus housing was not required for NROTC students to fulfill their training, as it might have been for Emergency Medical Services in-charges to perform their duties. Ultimately, neither side understood the others’ argument, and the two sides could not reach a middle ground, underscoring the fact that cases like these cannot be legislated by the entire student body.

OPINION 1/21/15 4:34am

NROTC deserves housing

Last Wednesday at Senate, two Rice Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps midshipmen brought forth their request for on-campus housing to voting members of the Student Association. They presented what Elliot and I considered a logical argument, and yet they were met with opposition and doubt. Weston Ruths, a junior midshipman, explained their rigorous morning routine, which requires them to report to training at 5:30 a.m. most days of the week. He also explained the ROTC requirement for all midshipmen to choose a STEM major, and as a result, the majority of the midshipmen have extensive engineering coursework on top of their ROTC training. Ruths pointed out that there are currently 10 midshipmen in the ROTC program at Rice, two to five of whom would ordinarily be kicked off campus on any given year. Given their difficult and demanding training schedule, being off campus proves to be challenging and leaves them with an unhealthy amount of sleep deprivation.

OPINION 1/14/15 3:54am

Hutchinson’s decision to cancel Cheer Battle strips students of voice

Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson has made an executive decision to not allot time to Cheer Battle during Orientation Week 2015 (see p.1). However, O-Week coordinators will retain the option of organizing an unofficial Cheer Battle during O-Week. According to Hutchinson, Cheer Battle “doesn’t represent who we are at Rice anymore” and violates Rice’s harassment policy requiring a non-hostile environment.

OPINION 1/14/15 3:50am

Charlie Hebdo attacks affirm place of free speech

For its Jan. 19, 2015 edition, The New Yorker chose the sketch “Solidarité,” by a Spanish artist named Ana Juan. Below the Eiffel Tower is a sea of blood, and the tower itself is dark, only becoming grey when it starts morphing into a pencil — a pencil that writes in red.

OPINION 1/14/15 3:49am

Cheer Battle cancellation solves nothing

I am not surprised that the administration has decided to remove Cheer Battle from Orientation Week. As any O-Week 2014 Coordinator can tell you, it was clear that there was push back on Cheer Battle from the administration. The time allotted to teaching and performing cheers was shortened and the traditional cheer routes were changed so that fewer colleges met up. The changes to Cheer Battle were simply presented to the O-Week Coordinators, and despite a majority disagreement, the changes remained. Some of our opinions were heard but not taken seriously. I quickly learned that our voices as student leaders are not as strong as they are advertised to be.

OPINION 12/3/14 1:23am

Rice should beat down ever-rising tuition

When I heard about students at University of California, Berkeley organizing a sit-in to protest the UC system’s approval of a five percent increase in tuition per year, amounting to a $612 increase next year, I actually scoffed. This laughter was not in belittlement of the tuition increase or in disregard for the plight of UC students; rather, I was bitterly amused at how much publicity this increase was receiving when Rice University has routinely increased student tuition by over three times that amount for the past decade.

OPINION 12/3/14 1:22am

Need a semester leave? Take it and don’t look back.

Like many Rice students, I am Type A. Since middle school, I’ve done everything at full intensity — pulled more all-nighters than I could possibly count, competed at the highest level of my sport of choice, completed hours of community service, etc. I had every next step planned and worked for it with all of my being. We’re all like this to some extent; that’s why we’re here, and that’s how we know it paid off.

OPINION 11/26/14 3:42am

Ich bin ein Berliner

25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, professor in the practice in mechanical engineering D. M. McStravick remembers his run-in with the Wall.Returning to my office after a Rice University baseball game last June, I stopped to look at the section of the Berlin Wall outside the Baker Institute. Contemplating the wall section and reading the inscription on the plaque brought back memories of some 50 years ago, when I worked in Germany "als Practicant." I went to Germany on an exchange program sponsored by IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) and found myself working on a drilling rig, which belonged to a German oil company. I lived in the country, renting a little room in a farmhouse. When I say little, I mean it was more like an oversized closet with a strange V-shaped bed, which I actually found to be quite comfortable.While working on the drilling rig, I frequently read “Das Bild,” which at that time was a four-page newspaper, mainly pictures with short articles — just right for my level of German. In the top right-hand corner of the front page, it had the number of days the Berlin Wall had been up. Each day the number increased by one.About midway through the summer, all the foreign Practikants working in Germany went to Hanover for a meeting. At the conference, five of us decided to rent a VW microbus and drive to Berlin after the conference. We were all foreigners: one Brit, one Fin, two Yanks, a Swede and the Fin's girlfriend, plus one German girl who wanted to see her boyfriend in Berlin.We drove on the autobahn to the East German border, where we had to go through "access control." We then entered one of the three land access routes through East Germany into Berlin. It was a narrow strip of land with autobahn and railroad tracks confined by barbed wire fences on either side. Beyond the fences were minefields, or so they said. It was about 100 miles through this no man's land until we reentered the "West," or West Berlin. At this transfer point guards with submachine guns inspected our car, and we finally got through. We found the youth hostel where we had planned to stay and discovered that there was room only for our female passengers. After a rather miserable night sleeping in a construction lot sitting up, the Brit and I set out on the elevated train with an address and some general directions to a different youth hostel. While riding the elevated train, we noticed in the distance a sawhorse and barbed wire barricade. It seemed to snake along next to us and then go away, only to return. Then it became more substantial, like a wall. I began to wondered if it was “The Wall.” We stopped at several stations and as we continued, the wall was still there. Finally, we made a hard left and crossed over this "thing." I thought this could not be The Wall as we did not go back over it. We came to a station and the train stopped. People began getting off. After a while, the Brit and I noticed that we were the only ones left on the train. We looked at each other and wondered what to do. This was the Friedrich Strasse Station, and we were going on to a stop near "Checkpoint Charlie." No one was getting on the elevated train. Finally, we decided this train wasn’t going on any time soon, so we decided to enter the station. As we walked the platform, we saw the submachine-gun-toting guards like we had seen at the border crossing.Finally, we saw a sign in several languages and, unfortunately, I recognized one as definitely Russian. As unbelievable as it seemed, we were in East Berlin. But you can’t just ride the elevated train into the Russian sector, can you? Although it was a puzzle how we got there, we were more concerned about how we were going to get to our next stop. I was hesitant to admit we were non-Germans that had gotten into East Berlin. But after much wandering through the station, I finally asked someone in my limited German where we were and how do we get to Checkpoint Charlie. After some discussion, we were told that we were indeed in East Berlin and should go down to the Unterbahn (subway) to go back out to Checkpoint Charlie and West Berlin.We were very relieved to be back in the West. We found the youth hostel and signed up to spend the next night in relative comfort. That afternoon, we went to Checkpoint Charlie and crossed "properly" into East Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie was the one place where non-Germans could enter East Berlin.The difference between East and West was dramatic. As we traveled the streets of East Berlin, it looked like WWII had just ended a few years earlier. Many of the buildings were still skeletons with the rubble just tossed into the remains of the structures. If you have seen any of the old newsreels of the Berlin airlift, East Berlin looked like it had not made much progress since then, although the airlift took place almost 17 years earlier. West Berlin, on the other hand, was vibrant and fully restored except for a few landmarks like the Kaiser Wilhelm Church Tower, which were intentionally left in partial ruin.The next day we rejoined the group and spent the day sightseeing and swimming in a lake. Because of our sleeping accommodations we planned an extended night of bar hopping. We went to the Kurfurstendamm and watched the street artists drawing with chalk. We had a special beer of Berlin which was a wheat beer mixed with fruit syrup.After having many beers, we were still not ready to sleep in the van. As we walked "home," we saw an illuminated portion of the Wall. At this point we decided it would be fun to take a night walk along the Wall. The first part of the walk was well lit, but as we got farther along, the lighting diminished. At one point we passed a weathered sign on which we could make out, "You are now leaving the British sector." I vaguely remember wondering what sector we were entering, but we went on undaunted. Our goal was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is in the East, but very near the Brandenberg Gate and visible from the West. We had seen it when we visited the Gate earlier in the day and thought it would be interesting to see at night. We finally ended up heading toward a well-lit area (the Tomb), walking along a narrow path that was overgrown with hedges on both sides. We were joking and having a great time. As we proceeded, we began to make out a figure walking toward us. All we could see was a silhouette, but one thing was clear: He carried a submachine gun. We wanted to walk off the path, but the hedge was so thick that it would have been very awkward and would look like a panicked attempt to avoid the oncomer. We decided to play it cool and just keep walking forward.At this point, the "you are now leaving the British sector" sign loomed heavily in my mind. We all sobered up very quickly and tried to look very casual, really hoping this guy spoke English and was not trigger-happy. When we got within earshot, he shouted, "Halt." We stopped, and I wondered, "How do I explain what we were doing?" Even in English it didn’t sound very sensible. In my best German I tried to explain we were just walking the Wall and wanted to go to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The guard quickly realized I was not German and responded in English. Much to our relief, it turned out that he was a West Berlin wall guard (something I did not realize even existed). He cautioned us that it was unwise to walk the wall at night, and, of course, we heartily agreed at this point. We made our way back to the van and decided to get a few hours sleep and then head back to Hanover.When we started out, it was still the middle of the night. As we pulled out of West Berlin, we again went through the guarded barricade and into the access corridor. I have driven a number of lonely roads in South Texas at night, but this no man's land road seemed the most desolate of all that night. We did not see any other cars on the road, going or coming. After an hour or so, we approached a sign announcing a split in the autobahn. We had slowed to a stop to read the signs, and at this point we were passed by the only car we had seen the whole night. We were apprehensive because we did not want to take the wrong path to the West since there were no crossovers and the other corridor went to southern Germany and was considerably longer. We had not gotten gas in Berlin because it was quite expensive. For sure, we did not want to run out of gas on this road. We approached the split in the road, and the car that passed us was waiting for us on the Hanover exit with its lights blinking. I assume they could tell we were from Hanover by our license plates. We fell in behind them and followed them back to West Germany.We arrived in Hanover, and I caught the train and bus back to the location of the drilling rig. In the “dog house” during break, I saw a copy of the Das Bild, and as usual they had on the front page: “Die Mauer ist 10XX Tage alt” (The Wall is 10XX days old). That brief item in the paper now meant so much more to me than it had before my trip. In fact, with my encounters and misadventures, I felt, as Kennedy had said several years earlier, that I too could say: “ICH BIN EIN BERLINER”.I would never forget the stark contrast between East and West Berlin. The “craziness” of ordinary life in such a divided city was hard to imagine unless you had seen it first hand. This tiny outpost of the West in East Germany was like a besieged island in a sea of Communism.When I got back to Rice and compared my summer work with rest of my fellow MECHs, I realized this had been a special experience that most of my classmates would never have. Some 25 years later, watching TV, I remembered those thoughts while watching the Germans knocking down that same wall on November 1989. I really looked in disbelief as sections of the wall fell. What a wonderful sight, and how happy I was to be witness to its demise.