Club Committee regulations frustrate student leaders

Club Committee Chairman Dillon Sumanthiran.

When students walked into the main gym during lunch on September 24, they were no longer entering a basketball court but rather the annual club fair.  Tables lined the edges of the gym as representatives of North’s 50-plus clubs ran around handing out flyers. Some of these clubs were established, like Model Congress, while others were just beginning, like the Manga club.  But all of these clubs have one thing in common: they have all  interacted with the Student Council Club Committee.

The Club Committee started last year after Vice-Principal Melissa Levine approached Student Council to request a new system for organizing clubs.  Student Council had always helped manage the clubs, but its regulatory powers had never been clearly outlined.  “There was no enforcement of the rules, there was no conveying of the rules, and basically no one knew what was going on,” said junior Dillon Sumanthiran, the chairman of the committee.

The committee is composed of an elected official from each grade (senior Shiva Gongolla, junior Alan Xu,  sophomore Amar Desai, and freshman Aarman James) and a chairman.  The committee runs the club approval process and keeps tabs on existing clubs to ensure that they are productive.

One of the committee‘s responsibilities is to evaluate club applications before Levine makes her final decision. The committee reads the club applications and decides whether they are legitimate, taking into consideration the level of interest from the student body, whether a similar club already exists, and whether the club has been proposed purely to enhance a student’s college resume.  After this process, the committee forwards the applications to Levine, who looks at them further and either accepts or rejects them.  If Levine approves an application, the potential club president pitches his or her plans to the entire Student Council.  StuCo members ask questions and then vote on whether to approve each club.

One of the ways Club Committee manages existing clubs is through attendance records.  Club presidents submit attendance through Google, so that the committee can check the activity of each club.  If a club does not meet regularly, the committee has the right to disband it.  However, the committee gives clubs time to accumulate members or organize meetings properly; clubs aren’t dissolved at the first sign of diminishing attendance.  “We’ve never had to shut a club down,”  Sumanthiran said.  “In any case, hopefully we’re helping clubs.”

But many club officials consider the committee a bureaucratic nightmare—not a helpful regulator.  Senior Shannon Sheu, who helps run the Envirothon club, contacted the committee via email with questions about the club fair—and didn’t get a reply for four days.  “There could be more than one person doing the emails.  They could plan in advance,” Sheu said.  “That was not the first time that happened.”

The committee’s attendance policy has also been source of frustration. The Club Constitution states that at least 15 members must attend meetings at least twice a month.  The rule is meant to ensure that clubs are actually operating. But for clubs with dozens of members, like the Thespian Society, the attendance rule can seem like a hassle.  “I’ll be darned if I have to write down 40 people’s names.  It’s unnecessary,” said senior Kiera Beatty, president of the Thespian Society.

Other club presidents  have taken to lying about  attendance.  The Kids for Kids club tutors students twice a month—yet the club is still required to hold additional meetings in order to comply with committee regulations. “Just because we didn’t meet the attendance policy didn’t mean that we’re not a productive club,” said senior Haley Ghesani, president of Kids for Kids, who added that her club has lied about attendance multiple times.  But the clubs’ failure to report accurate attendance doesn’t bother Levine, who said she believes all the clubs are active.  “Does every person tell the truth all the time?  I think we would be fooling ourselves if we expect that to happen.  We kind of know what’s going on,” she said.

Still, not all students think the committee is unnecessary and burdensome. Michelle Xu, an officer in  the Manga Club, said she struggled to have her voice heard during the club approval process, until she communicated directly with the committee.  “Upon first glance, some people, particularly Mrs. Levine, called for the Manga Club and the Anime Club to merge together, because both clubs dealt with subjects that pertained to Japanese art and culture,” Xu said.  “However, with the Manga Club working to create manga comics, stories, and drawings, and with the Anime Club working to review anime shows and Japanese music, it was fundamentally impossible for the two clubs to merge.”  Sumanthiran spoke individually with each club to better understand the separate projects and then brought the clubs’ concerns to Mrs. Levine.  Both clubs were approved.

Such situations are close to what former members of Student Council envisioned for the Club Committee.  Benjamin Zhang, the 2013 E-Board President, said that, during his tenure, there was no formal body established to deal with clubs.  “I think the idea of having a club committee manage the progress of existing clubs is a positive step towards establishing a formal and transparent process for club oversight,” Zhang said.  “That being said, however, concentrating in the hands of five people the power to deny club applications without a hearing and to terminate existing clubs is potentially risky.”

Student Council advisor Donna Ritz said she understands the students’ concerns and that she would be happy to relinquish control of the clubs.  “Over this past year, there have been thoughts that we have gone overboard, and if someone has a better idea and wants to take it over we would be happy to give it to them,” she said during an October Student Council meeting.  “We would be more than happy to not have this responsibility.”

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