SGA Sound-Off: EdLiberty Bill

Alrighty folks, in possibly the longest (and most well-attended) meeting of the Senate yet this year, there was quite the lively discussion this evening. As always, I’m here with the scoop. Apologies in advance for grammatical, spelling, and/or nonsensical errors, running on thesis-deadline fumes my friends.

In old business discussions: (1) The ad-hoc committee on the restoration of Worth Mountain Lodge is still going and will continue to report on progress. (2) After a polling of constituents as to what newspapers they most prefer, with overwhelming support for the New York Times the Presidential cabinet will keep this in mind when re-negotiating the contract for subscriptions (current contract ending this year).

However, to the meat of the meeting, the EdLiberty Proposal. The brainchild of Brian Foster ’13, EdLiberty is a community-building media and information sharing platform that would allow students, faculty, alumni, staff (anyone with an @middlebury.edu email) to instantly generate content that would be immediately made visible and open to the entire Middlebury community. It’s a four-prong platform, made of: Thinktank (a discussion platform for open conversations), Bulletins (where anyone could post events and activities), Newsroom (a space for posting news links), and video (would be administered by Old Chapel to promote Middlebury videos: sports, arts, performances, speakers, etc.). The bill requested $33,500 in start up funds from the SGA, which if received the administration would match at $33,500 to fund the full request amount of approx. $67,000.

Brian Sirkia, head of MiddVenture Community, shares his opinions regarding the EdLiberty proposal. The Crest room was filled nearly to capacity, with chairs (and couches) brought down from the upstairs gallery to accommodate all attendees.

As previously alluded to, this bill brought many voices, questions, and opinions from  senators, the SGA Presidential Cabinet, and the student body. In his presentation Brian Foster ’13 identified that EdLiberty fills a community need that he saw since being a first-year here at Middlebury, the ability to have a platform for full, open discussions within the community, bringing voices from all across campus and beyond. With EdLiberty he stated, “For the first time anyone in the community can communicate with everyone else at once.”

In the discussion of the bill, concerns were raised about Middlebury already having similar technology, even if admittedly these technologies are currently underutilized, not merged together, or as sleek-looking. Cook Commons Senator Michael Polebaum ’12 cited many tools Midd already offers, including middnotes, middlink, middlab, and the Portal saying, “If we did not have these websites, I would agree that EdLiberty fills a void. But the fact is that we do have the websites.” President of MCAB, Nadia Schreiber ’12, similarly expressed that while it would be a great proposal if there were not similar technologies, because there are already such similar things, on behalf of MCAB as an organization this is not something they could get behind. “The student activities fee money should be used for student activities,” Schreiber stated, citing everything from speakers to Leap Day Ice Cream at the Grille. Concerns were also raised about the potential use of such a web platform, asking how this would be successful where other technologies have failed to gain traction among students. While Foster has the endorsement of four commons councils and cited widespread student interest; as former Senator Anna Esten commented, “As much as it would be great to sort of centralize this online community… how much more of my life do I want to be online?” There was further hesitation amongst some senators (myself included in this) on actual use and student desire for the platform; among seniors polled, the majority of respondents said they would not use, post, or comment on the site.

The other opposition comes in terms of funding: both whether it is a reasonable expense for such technology, and whether or not this technology is an administrative expense or one towards which Student Activities fee funding should be allocated. Polebaum commented, “The SGA has covered for too long now things the administration wants… if the administration is truly behind it like they say they are … they should pay for it.” SGA Finance Committee Chair Scott Klenet ’12, presented the opinion of the Finance Committee, stating that the Finance Committee “does not believe this a good use of our funds… I applaud the spirit of this… I think this is a great idea… but if we’re going to be honest with ourselves and this is a business proposal… I personally don’t believe this is the right kind of  investment… “ Another concern was about the work being out-sourced to a webdesign company, when in the view of several meeting attendees, it was work that could be done in house, whether by LIS or student computer science majors.

Wonnacott Commons Senator Lucas Acosta ’14, Ross Senator Andrea Torres ‘13, and several meeting attendees (Rhiya from JusTalks, Brian from MiddVenture Community, and many other students), similarly voiced their strongly-supportive positions with regard to EdLiberty. Web developer Will Potter ’14 endorsed the proposal, commenting “… the point of a website is to make sure it gets hits. And without aggregating all of this content, it’s useless.” The community need of having a common space for interaction and discussion was also addressed, with Rhiya from JusTalks saying this is essentially an online version of discussions that they hope to have in action. Others cited the benefit the collaboration would have for technological innovation by students working with the administration.

After a night of long discussions, the bill failed with 7 yay (Andrea Torres ’13, Lucas Acosta ’14, Danny Zhang ’15, Rana Abdelhamid ’15, Nathan LaBarba ’14, Fif Aganga ’13, Janet Rodrigues ’12), 10 nay (Jackie Breckenridge ’14, Christian Holmes ’14, Michael Polebaum ’12, Joanie Thompson ’14, Kathryn Benson ’13, Brittany Gendron ’12, Nolan Maier ’12, Luke Carroll Brown ’13.5, Schooner Sonntag ’12, and Vin Recca ’12), and 0 abstaining from the vote.

While unanimously supported as a great idea of “tremendous value” (to quote SGA President Vin Recca ’12 — and as Feb Senator Luke Carroll Brown ’13.5 summarized, “you’ve identified a major hole here… [in the current technologies and space for discussion]”), the final vote reflected that the majority felt EdLiberty was not an appropriate use of Student Activities fee monies.

Well, that’s all for tonight! Until next week, enjoy your Sunday evening! And as always — email your senators if you want to know more about this, or any other legislation. We’re here to serve you, so be sure to share your voices.

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3 thoughts on “SGA Sound-Off: EdLiberty Bill

  1. SGA Sound-Off: Freedom of the Press, MiddView Final Amendments, Pass/Fail Updates & More | MiddBlog

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