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Staff Editorial: SGA should represent students in Financial Aid talks

As discussions about changes to Grinnell’s financial aid and need-blind admissions policy continue, students, faculty, staff and alumni will be presenting their positions to the Board of Trustees later this month. The S&B also laid out its position in a Nov. 16 staff editorial. As the student representative to the trustees, SGA President Colleen Osborne ’13 will have the opportunity to present a resolution written by SGA cabinet, debated and amended by Joint Board this week and voted on by them next week.

We are concerned that Osborne, other members of the SGA cabinet and many senators are not standing up for student interests to a sufficient degree. The resolution presented to Joint Board Wednesday essentially only took a clear stand on one issue: maintaining need-blind admissions. This is the most important policy change being discussed and we strongly support SGA’s call for remaining need-blind.

However, there are three options being considered, each with several policy changes within them. Changes to need-blind admissions are only one policy within one option. President Raynard Kington has repeatedly said he thinks it is unlikely that need-blind admissions will be altered. If the College indeed decides to remain need-blind, then the student resolution as presented would no longer apply to the rest of the discussion and student interests would not be represented. SGA needs to represent student interests by taking a position on all of the policies being discussed.

The resolution also opposes using proxies for wealth, such as an applicant’s zip code. However, the administration has already made clear it does not want to use wealth proxies and the option is off the table, which makes SGA’s mention of the policy seem ill-informed. Joint Board’s amendment to oppose adding more wealthy international students is also insufficient. A systematic positioning on all of the policies is necessary. In fact, only mentioning a few specific policies, as the resolution currently does, incorrectly implies that students find all of the other policies acceptable.

The reasons offered by some senators and the cabinet for this lack of specificity are deeply troubling. Osborne, for example, told senators asking for more specificity in the resolution that taking stands on particular issues would be inappropriately treading on the admissions office’s ground. “[It] would be infringing on their abilities, their superior abilities, if you will,” she said at Joint Board.

We strongly disagree with this position. The primary purpose of having an SGA president is representing students to the administration. Osborne seems to be ceding this role on the grounds that the administration knows best.

Furthermore, no one is suggesting that SGA propose new options, tell admissions which policies would be best at generating revenue, or do anything else that actually could be doing the admissions office’s job. We, and some senators, are simply asking for a continuation of what cabinet has already agreed is its job: representing student values. The resolution already states that altering need-blind admissions is against our values, so it should also weigh in on all the other policies being considered. Not only is this kind of specific response not infringing on the administration, it is representing a view unique to students. It is not administrators or trustees who will be making friends, entering into relationships, taking classes, eating in the dining hall and living with a reimagined student body with up to 80 wealthier members per class. It is students.

The administration has also been extraordinarily transparent and has invited opinion from the community. SGA seems to be more protective of the admissions office’s turf than the admissions office is.

The other main argument against specificity was that SGA cannot speak for students as a whole. For example, Treasurer Raghav Malik ’13 suggested that individual students email administrators or write on the Grinnell’s Future website. While students should take those actions as well, they are no substitute for the voice of the representatives of the student body. Cabinet and senators were elected specifically so that they could represent the voice of students as a whole. There is little point in having an SGA if it is going to pass the responsibility of representing students off to individuals.

We hope that at its meeting this Wednesday, Joint Board will go through each proposed policy change, debate how it relates to student values and then vote on whether it is acceptable or not. Joint Board could even rank the options in order of preference. Students should contact their senators and tell them to take a stand on the specific policies. SGA should realize it is meant to represent the student body and it needs to make students’ voices heard on the most important decision the College will make during our time here.

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