The first semester of the 55th session of the Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, has been a transitional one. With new president Katherine “Cookie” Rifiotis taking over the helm, and the fallout from the university’s mishandling of reports of ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse still occuring, the focus of ASMSU this semester has been on how the university can move forward.
Here are four important things that happened this semester with ASMSU.
ASMSU holds presidential search input forums
The organization held student forums, separated by colleges, in which students could provide their input on the presidential search.
Though these may seem similar in appearance to the input sessions held by the search committee itself, ASMSU President Katherine “Cookie” Rifiotis said in a Sept. 27 interview with The State News they were meant to be more student-led and convenient for students rather than faculty.
“A lot of the presidential search input sessions have been between 9-5 to make sure that faculty and staff are on campus so that they can attend,” Rifiotis said. “Unfortunately, if you’re gonna make something geared towards students, it has to be later in the day.”
The sessions were held during the first two weeks of October, and Rifiotis said they were extremely important to her, as she is the only undergraduate on the presidential search committee.
Engler appears at GA meeting for discussion
During the Nov. 1 meeting of the general assembly, Interim President John Engler appeared. For about 45 minutes, he answered a myriad of unscripted questions from students.
Multiple students asked about changes to tuition structure beginning in the 2019-20 academic year. Block tuition will charge all full-time students not in the Business College or Engineering College the same rate, regardless of the number of credits they are taking – $7,230 for incoming freshmen taking between 12 and 18 credits for a semester.
“As you know, there’s been a big effort underway on campus to try to encourage graduation in four years, thus reducing the cost of college and (allowing graduates to) get out there earning money,” Engler said. “We think it’s a very positive thing.”
Ben Horne, the vice chairman of ASMSU’s policy committee and a representative of the Lyman Briggs College, was unhappy with the decision to switch to block tuition. He asked why ASMSU had not been consulted.
“The transition period here we are woefully unprepared for,” Horne said. “There are about 200 university policies that need to go through academic governance, and they have not yet. (ASMSU) has not really been consulted throughout the entire process when it largely affects undergraduates.”
Horne and Engler had a discussion about whether block tuition should happen at the university, with Engler ending the discussion by saying, “The decision to go to block tuition has been made. You need to help on the implementation, and I hope you will.”
ASMSU discusses incident involving professors Rankin and LaDuca
During the Nov. 29 committee meetings, a resolution was introduced to stand with Professor Joy Rankin, who published a long essay on Medium detailing her alleged sexual harassment by Lyman Briggs College associate dean Rob LaDuca. The Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE, cleared LaDuca in 2017.
The discussion was tabled after numerous issues with it were brought up. It will now go to the Office of Academic Affairs for rewriting and introduction at the next General Assembly meeting.
The main likelihood is that the resolution will be divided into two parts. The first part is a bill that calls for the Office of Academic Affairs, headed by Dylan Westrin, to conduct an investigation into cases like Rankin’s, which he says will start with a call to OIE. The second part is a resolution concerning ASMSU’s stance on Rankin and survivors overall.
A resolution is defined as a statement ASMSU makes to take stances on issues. A bill, by contrast, empowers an office within ASMSU — in this case, Academic Affairs — to begin using its resources to either investigate, advocate or otherwise affect things.
“We want to look at the broad relationship between ... the worker and the boss,” Westrin said of the investigation, which he hopes the revised bill would allow to take place. “We’re specifically looking to explore the relationship between a tenure-tracked female professor and the administration in the colleges.
“It’s the before, during and after of trying to get direct research ... of what the culture is. We always talk about ‘there’s a culture of sexual assault on campus;’ let’s add more to those numbers.”
President “Cookie” Rifiotis takes leave of absence
An e-mail went out to all members of the General Assembly Dec. 3 announcing that ASMSU president Katherine “Cookie” Rifiotis will take a leave of absence for the rest of the fall semester, due to personal reasons.
Senior chemistry major Caroline Colpoys, Rifiotis’ executive assistant, spoke to The State News by phone that night and confirmed the absence. In a text message the following day, she said Rifiotis would be back next semester.
“All that we’re saying right now is she’s taking a personal leave of absence for the rest of the semester, so Dan (Iancio, vice president for finance and operations) takes over as president pro-tempore, and he and Makenzie (Bosworth, vice president for student allocations) will be co-chairing the meeting on (Dec. 6),” Colpoys said.