SC President outlines agenda of activism
Four fewer votes in last year's Student Confederation election and School of Public Affairs junior Ken Biberaj wouldn't have been able to refurnish the SC president's office the way he wanted.
Biberaj defeated SPA senior Wojtek Staszkiewicz by six votes in what student government leaders called one of the closest victories in SC history.
Over the summer a boating accident placed Biberaj into the hospital and fashioned a neck brace around the lanky New Yorker's collar, which forced him to lose the chic yellow tie he purchased over the summer for his address at AU's opening convocation last week.
Biberaj almost didn't make it to the fall semester as the SC president, but now that he's here, Biberaj promises AU students that his administration will tackle an incredibly ambitious agenda.
That promise appeared evident to AU President Benjamin Ladner when he visited Biberaj in the hospital after his accident. Ladner said during his convocation speech that when he entered Biberaj's hospital room that,"Ken said, 'I am in contact with my office. And we are going to make this year the best ever.'
"He said he was on a lot of drugs at time," Ladner said about Biberaj's greeting him in the hospital. He then jestfully added "And I am afraid that is just Ken."
Biberaj told The Eagle that the neck brace should come off after a doctor's appointment next week. In the meantime Biberaj said the SC will dedicate itself to improving its customer relations with AU students, help facilitate Ladner's planned town-hall meetings and work to take a proactive position on the University Senate.
"The SC has so much more to offer," Biberaj said. "It is not just this office and the executives."
Biberaj further explained that former SC executives tried to take on too much responsibility and refused to delegate matters to other SC members. He is encouraged that his staff will be able to handle the SC's expansive goals because of the number of applicants who applied last year for Cabinet positions.
Over 100 candidates applied for SC positions last year, Biberaj said. He added that the candidate profiles remain on file in the SC and those students could be called upon to assist with projects later in the year.
Karen Gerlach, AU's student government coordinator, said the SC has aggressively tried to recruit students who have typically not participated in student government. She is still waiting, however, to see the results before she levies any judgement about whether this has created a more successful SC, Gerlach said.
"[Biberaj] is laying the ground work for that," Gerlach said. "It is really in the idea phase."
One of the first priorities for the SC this year will be to facilitate Ladner's Campus Conversations, which will engage students on topics pertaining to the University such as enrollment and creating a global university, Biberaj said.
The SC hopes to document these meeting by creating a report called "Strategic Visions," Biberaj said. He adds that the report will serve as a barometer to direct AU administrators in future years.
"We are laying out our opinion here to say, 'Here is what we know and what the students are saying,'" Biberaj said.
In addition to the administration, Biberaj hopes that this year's SC will help to improve University-student relations through its "Customer Service Initiative." This project will review campus services and university departments such as the Office of Information Technology and Financial Aid.
The report will highlight what each department is doing right and wrong when dealing with students, Biberaj said. The SC will distribute a preliminary report this fall to students explaining the details of the initiative, Biberaj said. The follow-up report will be issued in March and updates will be released periodically to keep students abreast of the SC findings, he added.
"It will make sure students are getting what they deserve," Gerlach said.
Engaging in these campus conversations is one way that Biberaj said he believes the SC can better engage AU administrators. He also said he wants to utilize the students' new voting power on the University Senate to create a proactive student agenda and to monitor the ever-important tuition increases.
Last year tuition increased by 5.1 percent, which was a 0.2 percent increase from the 1998-1999 academic year increase of 4.9 percent. Biberaj said it is his goal to keep tuition inflation below 5 to 6 percent.
This is the first SC administration since 1984 that has voting student members of University Senate. The Senate agreed to once again permit students to vote with little objection last year. Gerlach said Senate members seem eager to work with the students this year.
"This will really be the first test run see what that [voting power] means," Gerlach said.