Former Senate of College Councils

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series about the legislative student organizations at UT and their transition to new leadership over the next few weeks. The quotes of the incoming leadership came from their applications for their positions and interviews.

Former Senate of College Councils President Carisa Nietsche spent the past year trekking across campus to represent students in her size eight shoes. Months later, Senate president-elect Michael Morton is taking the reins. Despite wearing a size 14, he said Nietsche leaves him big shoes to fill.

When she first took office in fall 2011, Nietsche pledged to focus on technology, academic integrity and student retention. Nietsche’s last day in office was April 5, and she leaves behind a series of policy initiatives reflecting the promises she made last year. Nietsche will spend the next few weeks transitioning Morton and his executive board to their positions.

“There is so much information to pass on,” Nietsche said. “I’m going to be helping [Michael] build trust with the administration. It’s a really fun process.”

Over the next year Morton said he will continue work on some of Nietsche’s initiatives. Morton also said he plans to increase outreach to students not involved in Senate. Morton said he will focus on increasing student representation at the Capitol for the 2013 legislative session through “Invest in Texas,” an initiative co-sponsored by Student Government and the Graduate Student Assembly advocating for adequate higher education funding.

Former SG President Natalie Butler said she worked with Senate when communicating with the UT System and on tools like MyEdu. At the moment, Butler said, she and Nietsche have a good relationship and are currently serving on a committee to refocus student orientation this summer. Butler says she plans to meet with Morton to discuss plans for both organizations.

Hank Dugie, former Liberal Arts Council president, said he felt Senate faced problems due to a disconnect between internal Senate and the college councils. Dugie said within the councils some members tend to focus on what they can get from Senate rather than what they can give.

“I really want the organization to realize what they’re doing and what they’re here for,” Dugie said.

This year, some of Senate’s initiatives included the creation of a Career Services Working Group; an honor code task force; including College Tuition Advisory Committees in the tuition conversation; a Senate election code; an electronic course instructor survey and creation of informal student forum SenateTea.

Nietsche said she considered engaging the College Tuition Budget and Advisory Committees, which happen within each college council the administration’s biggest accomplishment. This year, the CTBACs submitted their recommendations on the tuition increase to the deans and provosts offices around campus. Out of the 20 councils, only Liberal Arts Council voted against a tuition increase.

Nietsche said although she listened to concerns from groups against the increase, it was difficult to satisfy everyone, and the tuition-setting process was one of the biggest challenges she faced.

“Tuition Policy Advisory Committee was the hardest table to sit at,” Nietsche said. “It was hard for me as a Senate president because I lean more to the CTBACs. It was difficult because this was how a small student activist group [Occupy UT] thinks versus how CTBAC thinks.”

Melinda Sutton, deputy to the Dean of Students and Senate’s adviser, said Senate members often spoke to her on the challenge of making sure the student voice is heard in the conversation on the role of the University as a research institution.

“I don’t know how students feel about all legislative student organizations, but I know from working with them that senate leaders spend countless hours on behalf of their peers,” Sutton said.