ASG increases transparency with accessible minutes, updated website

Allegheny Student Government has added a new item to its agenda this year: improving its record keeping. 

In addition to improving wellness and creating a better relationship with students and administrators, ASG President Camila Gomez, ’19, is determined to improve the quality and accessibility of general assembly minutes.

“The one legacy that I really hope to leave is that the issue of transparency and communication is fixed,” Gomez said.

ASG minutes have been stored in the Merrick Archives since the 1960s. The ASG director of organizational development is responsible for taking minutes at general assembly and cabinet meetings and sending them to the archives, according to the ASG Constitution.

The archives kept ASG minutes in hardcopy form until 2013, according to Ruth Andel, archivist at the Merrick Archives. For the past five years, archivists have uploaded ASG minutes to DSpace, a program Allegheny uses as a way to preserve information digitally.

Since the 1960s, ASG minutes for particular years are unaccounted for. For example, there are no minutes in the archives between 1966 and 1970, 1976 and 1981, 1992 and 2004, and most recently, the spring 2017 semester, according to Andel.

Of the 116 minutes records uploaded to the Allegheny Student Government Collection on DSpace at time of print, 30 records are ASG cabinet meeting minutes, and 86 records are ASG general assembly minutes. All cabinet meeting minutes are from 2013 and 2014, and 11 total records are not dated. Those 11 records are dated in the DSpace file name but not within the documents themselves.

With the exceptions of the Sept. 4, Sept. 11 and Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, general assembly minutes, attendance lists are not included in any minutes uploaded to DSpace. Names appear in DSpace minutes inconsistently from 2013 to spring 2018. Some records include first and last names, some include first names and last initials and others include only first names.

Of the 86 general assembly minutes, 76 approved the previous week’s general assembly minutes.

Robert’s Rules of Order, which are referenced in the fifth line of the Sept. 1, 2015, general assembly minutes, outline conventions for the official proceedings of organizations. Robert’s Rules of Order are based on the 1876 publication of the same name, written by Henry Martyn Robert.

The Robert’s Rules conventions related to meeting minutes include stating the times, dates and locations at which meetings are called and adjourned and descriptions of any motions made during meetings.

ASG meeting times have not been consistently recorded since 2015, according to the DSpace records.   

In the past, Gomez said she has referenced ASG meeting items through the records on DSpace as well as Facebook Live video recordings to gain information.

In addition to Facebook Live, Gomez and Hannah Schaffer, ’20, current director of organizational development, both record the audio of general assembly meetings on their phones to ensure weekly records are “a lot more complete than they used to be,” Gomez said.

The director of organizational development position, Gomez said, has lacked “structure” and “consistency” in the past.

“Two years ago, three people held the position in the course of just one year,” Gomez said. “Even if there was any consistency, it was gone by that time.”

Mollie McDermott, ’18, served as director of organizational development for the full 2017-18 school year, after stepping into the role during the spring 2017 semester.

“There were no formats, no templates, no nothing, so we were really working off a blank slate which obviously made things much worse last year, but in a way has given us a real opportunity to start completely from scratch this year,” Gomez said.

Associate Dean for Wellness Education Gretchen Beck said she has been the ASG adviser for about 10 years and primarily helps “facilitate their priorities for the year.”

“The way that we have done agendas and kept minutes over the years has changed from year to year, depending on the the students that are involved and the number of students on senate,” Beck said.

With changes to the ASG constitution in 2015, Beck said ASG has had to adapt to a new organizational structure.

“Their size changed, and the way they kind of managed themselves changed a little bit — which was a good thing — but along with that comes some growing pains sometimes when you’re restructuring things,” Beck said.

Beck said ASG should ideally keep track of motions and attendance in minutes and should abide by Robert’s Rules during their meetings so “folks are heard, and people have a chance to talk about the items of the day.”

To help standardize ASG records, Gomez created a template for minutes, housed in a shared Google Drive folder that can be accessed on ASG’s website by anyone with an Allegheny email address. A full membership list, the agenda and the completed minutes can be found in the folder. Gomez said minutes should be completed and uploaded to the folder within 24-hours of each meeting. 

“(Keeping the minutes) is very hard …” Gomez said. “You do have to type frantically and get it together, and we’re working on it. Of course, we’re not going to be perfect from day one, and honestly, I think that it’s a complete revolution from last year already.”

The folder allows ASG to keep its own record of meetings instead of only relying on archivists to upload the minutes to DSpace, Gomez said.

In addition to Gomez’s efforts to improve record keeping, ASG Director of Communications and Press David Roach, ’21, worked on updating the ASG website over the summer. Roach said the website is nearly complete and will be updated as he receives election platforms and cabinet biographies from class candidates and cabinet members.

Roach’s main objective for updating the ASG website was to streamline all ASG materials, including stickers, posters, colors, graphics and links to create a better digital space — on both desktop and mobile platforms. Roach served as ASG press secretary last year and said he found the former ASG website difficult to navigate on his end.

“I can’t even imagine what it was like to try and get information from it if it was someone trying to get information about running or people looking for information about what we’re doing on campus,” Roach said. “So I really wanted it to be simple and clean cut and very user-friendly.”

Roach said he consulted Gomez, Beck and ASG Vice President Gillian Greene, ’20, about what pages he needed to maintain in the website transition, and he removed nonessential components of the website and combined others to simplify the website format.

The director of communications and press is typically responsible for uploading ASG minutes and agendas to the ASG website, Roach said. But because of Google Drive access now linked to the “What We Do” tab of the website, Roach said he will not need to upload those documents himself, as they will be updated by Schaffer.

Roach is currently assisting Grounds for Change with updating its website and said one of his goals as director of communications and press is to be a resource for campus clubs and organizations to use for marketing and website design support. Roach said he designed the ASG website to last so that future administrations do not need to perform complete overhauls of the website.

Gomez hopes that the standardized minutes template will also continue to be used by the organization even after her term as president ends.

ASG has been impacted both externally and internally by the lack of consistency, Gomez said.

“It’s not fun when somebody’s like ‘Hey, I would really like these minutes,’ and I’m like what I can offer you is not helpful,” Gomez said. “That’s not a good feeling. Those of us inside the organization are aware of how the minutes used to be, and if we weren’t we wouldn’t try to improve that.”

This is not the first time ASG minutes have been addressed. 2017-18 ASG President Mark MacStudy, ’18, said he and Vice President Valerie Hurst, ’18, tried to make the minutes more accessible and thorough during their terms, but as the year went on, the minutes were “underlooked” as other issues took priority.

Gomez tried to address the minutes with MacStudy and Hurst, but she said “it was just not working.”

“You can try to make things better, to create a template to make things easier,” Gomez said. “But at the end of the day, cooperation is the most important part, and if you don’t have a willingness to improve, you know it’s not going to happen.”

Gomez said it is disappointing to know that students who look back at previous years’ minutes will “probably not be able to get the information they need.”

While Gomez thinks previous administrations have been willing to communicate with students, she wants ASG to improve in its ability to communicate with all students and be as transparent as possible. The minutes are just one aspect of this vision, but Gomez said she thinks this new system will be better than previous years.

Gomez does not think ASG will ever be in the “perfect situation” when it comes to keeping track of minutes, but thinks ASG can make a “significant amount of improvement” in addition to the improvement it has already made this year.