Student government approves transit pilot program, lecture series; bids good-bye to long-time member

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By Emily Johnson – Editor-in-Chief

Four hundred UNO students can take advantage of free bus rides to campus through a new Pass to Class pilot program during the spring and fall 2011 semesters next year.

Sen. Gerard Wellman authored the $40,000 proposal, approximately half of which will be paid for by the UNO Student Government. Metro Area Transit will pay for the other half. The program doesn’t currently include the summer semester and will last through the end of the fall semester, or until the funds have been used.

Student Government e-mailed a transportation survey to students two months ago. Of the 15,448 UNO students, only 659 participated in the survey. The majority of the respondents (80.6 percent) reported never having used an Omaha or Council Bluffs city bus system. Seventy percent have never ridden the bus to UNO, but 55.2 percent said they would ride the bus to campus if it were free for all UNO students.

The measure was discussed for about an hour before being passed during the Student Government Senate’s last meeting on Nov. 11. All but one senator approved the resolution. Increasing parking expenses and traffic congestion have long been a problem for the UNO community, but senators expressed concern that not enough students would use the program.

Wellman said that two-thirds of metropolitan universities in the United States already offer free or subsidized public transportation for students. Currently, he said, using MAT buses ($2.50 each day) to get to UNO costs a student twice as much as paying for a parking pass (about $1.08 each day). He hopes the pilot program will gain student support now that the cost is roughly equal.

“Few non-car-based transportation options are provided to UNO students attending class and campus activities, and this has a disproportionate impact on international students, the disabled, those who wish to minimize their environmental impact and those who cannot afford a personal vehicle,” Wellman wrote in the resolution.

The MAT bus route extends from downtown Omaha to 90th and 108th streets, wrapping around to include streets in the northern and southern parts of Omaha. Wellman said that one route stretches to Oak View Mall and 144th Street.

“Students who live west of 108th Street can basically use the park and ride system,” Wellman said, citing multiple parking areas near the western edge of the route.

The senators are unsure of how to handle issues including possible abuses of the system – such as if  students were to use their passes to commute to work – how much or whether students could possibly be charged, or what a long-term goal of the program would be, but agreed the program’s future rests upon student response and popular support.

In other news, Executive Treasurer Stephanie Pravecek recommended Sens. Seth Jones and Terrence Batiste to the Student Activities Budget Commission, an annual panel composed of UNO faculty, students and student government members that allocates funding for student-focused groups.

Both were recommended by Executive Treasurer Stephanie Pravecek, who is also new to SABC. Before their appointments to the committee, both Jones and Batiste admitted little experience but enthusiasm for the positions.

“I don’t like math, but I like zeros at the end of dollar signs,” Jones said jokingly.

Jones said he’s looking forward to the experience, with a future ambition to apply for the Executive Treasurer position. Jones was appointed unanimously without questions.

Batiste said he doesn’t have personal experience with SABC  and while he is also bad at math, he wants to get more involved. He cited cutting printing funds for The Gateway as one of his major concerns, which elicited questions from multiple senators.

Sen. Wrobel and Sen. Curtis voiced concerns that Batiste has a negative opinion about The Gateway, and questioned Batiste’s objectivity in making budget decisions for the newspaper this year.

“I’m not going to lie, I think The Gateway needs a little less funding,” Batiste said. “I don’t think that it’s appropriate that they’re handing out two copies every single week.”

The Gateway is funded primarily by advertising, with the remaining cost distributed among UNO students as part of a $131.55 fee that also pays for Student Government, Student Programming Organizations, Milo Bail Student Center Expansion/Renovation Bonds and other facility support. For this, UNO students, faculty and community can access issues free of charge throughout the year. Most universities employ the same system to pay for student newspapers.

In a student vote during the Fall 2009 semester, 641 students voted in favor of student funding, while 482 voted against, 402 offered no opinion and 73 offered no vote.

The UNO newspapers-on-campus initiative that began in 2007 also uses student fees to provide students with The New York Times, USA Today and The Omaha World-Herald.   

Sen. Schondelmeyer questioned if Batiste was forming his thoughts from his opinion of The Gateway as an organization, or from the funds that were available.

Batiste responded that he had spoken with several students who told him they never read or were interested in getting involved in The Gateway.

“I walk by stacks and stacks of it every day, and for me that means the money could obviously go towards something else,” he said, adding that The Gateway had plenty of time to sort its problems out in the past.

Sen. Huben granted his time to The Gateway, which asked Batiste if his concerns were merely about his observations about the print version of The Gateway or the organization as a whole, including the shift college readers have made from print to online and the launch of The Gateway’s new website two weeks ago.

Batiste replied that he would support The Gateway’s progression online.

“My mission on SABC will not be to decimate or destroy the paper,” Batiste responded. “What I’m saying is that I agree to a point that most newspapers are going to online. I think we should help The Gateway go about that, by taking a little less money operationally to produce papers that no one is reading.”

Student Body President/Regent Michael Crabb authored the second resolution of the evening. Sponsored by Sens. Agrawak, O’Connor and Tefft, the unanimously approved resolution introduces a new “Unorthodox Lecture Series” to UNO’s campus. The Student Government Academic Excellence committee will nominate and select speakers with the SOLP office “connect passionate faculty with our engaged student body,” Crabb wrote in the resolution.

In other meeting news, Huben and Tefft proposed a future initiative called Fund for Undergraduate Experience, or FUSE. The purpose of these funds would be to grant university funds for undergraduate students projects. A committee would review applications twice a year, and, if selected, a student would work closely with a mentor (most likely a professor). The senators plan to bring the proposal to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents soon.

In final news, Chief Administrative Officer Matt Nelson announced the submission of his resignation, effective at the end of this semester. He informed the Senate that he accepted a job as a UNO teaching assistant for next semester, which will occupy his time, and announced his position open for application. Nelson has served Student Government for three years

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