Two Senators' Thoughts on The Student Association

Most MBA students are vaguely aware of what the Student Association or the Senate does. Our goal in this article is to make the inner-workings of the SA clearer and to offer some ideas of how we think the Student Association and Senate can serve the student body even better (many of which have come from students and administrators we have spoken to).
People are usually surprised when they find out just how much of MBA life is influenced by the SA. From Orientation to graduation, almost every major happening in our two years is run by or heavily influenced by the student government. For example, the upcoming Admit Day has been almost completely revamped by an Admit Day Committee consisting of senators and admissions reps. The Class of 2004’s housing lottery system has also been completely redone by senators on the housing committee working with HBS Housing (things should go a lot smoother than they did for the Class of 2003!). The SA also runs SA Ventures which offers everything from binders to business cards.

The Senate
The Senate meets every week. Besides the first and second year senators whom you have elected, the SA executive committee (Presidents and CFO) and representatives from various committees (Ed Rep Committee, Tech Rep Committee, Harbus, etc.). The Senate meetings are when new issues are surfaced (anything from a vending machine not working to more serious issues dealing with Community Standards or the tough recruiting environment). Senate meetings are also where the various committees make summary reports updating us on their progress/issues.

Most of the actual work a senator does takes place in the committees (each senator sits on two or three committees). For example, the Class Day Committee would be made up of senators and members of the administration who will do the planning/executing involved with selecting a speaker, marketing events associated with Class Day and organizing the logistics around the selecting a student speaker. Likewise, the Housing Committee is a group of senators and members of the housing office who work on directly improving how housing is done at HBS. Contrary to what many people may believe, committee work can be very hands-on and extremely important issues can be influenced a lot by your senators (unfortunately, not all of what is done is glamorous enough to tell everyone about it).

Our Ideas
First of all, serious credit has to be given to the current SA co-presidents, Lori Shock and Mark Plunkett. They are amazing people, and, even more important, have been really kick-butt presidents who regularly go out of their way to make sure things happen in the best interests of the student body. Any “improvements” we suggest would not even be possible to discuss had Mark and Lori not laid the foundation of having the strong SA that we have.

At a very high level, we think that the Student Association should be more transparent to the student body. This will allow students to get more excited about the interesting work being done in the Senate and make the SA more accountable to student needs. It would also encourage non-officer students to participate more actively in the student government. This transparency can be achieved by just doing a bunch of small but significant things like creating a regularly updated SA newsletter on the SA website (which should also contain more accessible information about the workings of the SA) and, hopefully, writing more articles like this one.

Harvard Business School students have A LOT of buying power. Go to almost any restaurant or bar in Harvard Square on most any day and you’ll run into your classmates. We think that our collective propensity to spend a lot of money on food and drinks can and should be leveraged to get discounts and special deals at local clubs, restaurants and bars. Would Avalon be willing to waive the cover charge if 300 MBAs show up and spend an average of $20 each on drinks? We think so. (In fact, when Sal was president of the Senior Class at MIT, he got Avalon to waive their cover charge and we business school types spend A LOT more money that 21-year-old engineers.)

One issue that many of our classmates have brought to our attention is that there really is not as much interaction with the other schools at Harvard as you might expect. There are some parties thrown with other graduate schools, but there could be other types of events. For example, the Kennedy School has amazing speakers, but has no respectable venue for them to speak in (basically just the lobby of their student center). If Al Gore spoke in Burden instead of in the KSG lobby, we think everyone would have been better off (Pareto efficient?); we would have had better access to the event, more people could have been accommodated, and everyone would have had a better view. Likewise, wouldn’t it be great if we had mixers or debates with other students at the law school or the KSG. A lot of this can and should be facilitated by our clubs, but we think that the SA can do a lot to help make the initial connections. On this same front, we also think it would be great to have closer interaction with other area MBA programs.

Clubs at HBS define our experience here. One complaint that we’ve heard from many club officers is that they find it difficult to plan events without knowing what is going on in other clubs. There also seems to be a lot that can be gained if the various clubs have a forum to discuss issues important to them and brainstorm potential events that could be jointly sponsored. We see the SA as the ideal facilitator for club issues. The SA is already working on a new Club Committee to streamline the process of approving new clubs; maybe this committee should also be a forum for club representatives to share ideas with each other at the Senate?

SA Ventures does a lot of awesome work for the student body. By offering useful products and services like business cards and case binders, they make our life easier and raise money that can subsidize events like TGIFs and Hollidazzle. The role of SA Ventures can be extended even further through initiatives like having on-campus tuxedo/costume rentals/purchases that can only benefit the HBS community (not to mention that if the SA received, say, 10% of the revenues, there could be serious subsidies for future events).
This job market is difficult for all of us, but it is even worse for international students (as a Canadian, Annemarie can speak first hand about the difficulty of finding international recruiters or American companies willing to sponsor a Visa; and things are much easier for Canadians than other internationals). Career Services has been proactive about addressing this issue by hiring a new Director of International Affairs (who happens to be a wonderful person by the way), but we think the SA could be involved as well. Maybe first-year international students could be paired with second-year students to discuss the job hunt? Even better, maybe we could work with Career Services to develop a formal mentoring program where international alums can be paired up with current students?

On a similar front, several students have approached us about the difficulties involved in working for free over the summer. Apparently, the difficulty arises from the fact that, by law, you aren’t allowed to work for free unless you get academic credit for your time (minimum wage laws). HBS has already set up work-for-credit programs for international students over the summer (so that they have the full terms of their work Visas after graduation), so we don’t see why we couldn’t do a similar type of program for all students working for free (this issue was actually discussed at the last Senate meeting).

Several married students have spoken to us about both difficulties their partners have faced at HBS and some of the hardships involved in being a student-parent. For example, a current first year spoke to us about how difficult it was for his partner to use HPRE (they didn’t belie
ve she was a partner) and other Harvard facilities to which they officially had access. To solve this, we think it would be great if some type of partner identification card could be developed (there are already ones for different services, but there should only be one). On a similar front, a parent in Section D approached us about the difficulty involved in finding someone to take care of her child after school when they have a meeting to attend. She suggested that the SA offer some type of match-making/referral service where parents can find other people in the community (possibly other partners) to take care of their children. This is the type of idea we would like to see more of in the Senate.
Finally, many students have spoken to us about the stress involved in finding a compatible study group. When we arrive at HBS, there is no clear sense of when study groups should be formed and what is the appropriate protocol for asking to join or leave a group. We think that the SA could really help out this process by offering an optional study-group match-making service. First years would fill out a poll saying how hard they want to work, their attitude towards write-ups, what type of people they want to work with, and when they’d like to meet, and the SA would place people in groups.

Whew! I know we’ve written a lot and you may be surprised to find out that this is just a sample of some of the issues that we think can be addressed by the Student Association. Hopefully, this article has given you an idea about what goes on in the Senate and will get you excited about being more involved in the student government. If you have more ideas or issues, we’d love to sit down and chat with you!