Any returning students involved in student organizations this year will have noticed that things are being done quite differently than they were in years past. The new club/chapter system that has been slowly implemented by the Student Organizations Committee (SOC) has been the cause of much confusion on the part of many club and chapter leaders. Complaints about poor communication from the SOC and administration, the confusing structure, and overall bureaucratic nature of the new system are numerous. Over the past few weeks, I’ve attempted gather opinions from club/chapter leaders, club members, the SOC, and the administration to gauge how people feel about this new system’s effectiveness and what changes (if any) people would like to see in the future. What I’ve concluded is that new system was created with the best of intentions, but was not always implemented in the most efficient way. Moving forward there needs to be a more concrete dialogue between club/chapter leaders and the SOC about how to implement changes that reflect widespread student concerns.
For those not informed on the new changes, the basic structure of this new system took all the clubs from last year and divided them up under umbrella groups of clubs with similar interests. The clubs from last year are now chapters and the umbrella groups they are a part of are now referred to as clubs. In addition to changing the structure of student organizations, new leadership positions were added at the club level. Now, most chapters have their executive board just like last year, but also have a club executive board that oversees them and the other chapters in the club. Club leaders are given OrgSync access and approve chapter events and budgets. Chapter leaders, just as before, continue to run meetings and organize events. This new structure is the culmination of efforts to centralize chapter operations under an umbrella so that budgets and events are easier to keep track of. Unfortunately, many chapter heads have not yet found this new system to be particularly effective.
In fairness to the SOC and the administration, I will acknowledge that the system last year was indeed inefficient and needed change. As an over-eager freshman, I tried to attend as many OrgSync events as I could and in the process discovered that, despite our small size, NYU Shanghai has so many amazing student organizations. Yet, much like the SOC, I found it troubling that attendance at many club meetings and events was lackluster at best. The club/chapter system was created to help deal with the problem. Because the student body at NYUSH is so fluid with new study aways every semester and juniors studying away, it was hard for some chapters to survive from year to year either due to members studying away or lack of interest. Under the new system, clubs collectively contain enough members to withstand a constantly changing student body. Even if a chapter ultimately were to disappear, students would still be able to join other chapters within the same club that engaged in similar activities. Budgeting is also theoretically improved under this system because money can be distributed more equitably each month depending on the needs of each chapter, as determined by club leaders. This is opposed to last year when the SOC had to look over multiple budgets for many organizations doing similar things.
Despite all its supposed benefits, chapter heads that I’ve talked to have been largely unimpressed. Many have noted that the new system is unnecessarily bureaucratic. As Nofar Hamrany, Outreach Coordinator for Green Shanghai, described it: “This system just created another layer of positions and responsibilities, when it was hard enough to find people to fill all the positions in the previous system.” As someone who is currently the treasurer of a chapter, I can attest to this fact. Especially since chapter leaders cannot fill these roles themselves. This issue was brought up at the SOC meeting on Oct. 17 as well as in my emails to Student Life. The overwhelming consensus amongst Student Life and the SOC is best put by Jeremy Hissong, Senior Associate for Student Involvement: “Club roles must be filled as a priority…and chapter roles can be filled afterwards to account for more specific interest areas within the club.” On the other hand, the consensus amongst students is the complete opposite. For students, chapters are more important because without chapters a club is nothing. Not to mention that chapters usually have an identity that attracts people in the first place, while the clubs serve largely an administrative function.
These wildly different views just showcase what is perhaps the biggest problem facing student organizations today: poor communication. The SOC did have many forums and meetings last year to discuss their plans for this new system, however, I was repeatedly told by chapter leaders that many student suggestions were not taken into consideration despite the insistence by committee members that student input would have an impact. Communication has seemingly not improved much from last year given that many are just as confused about the system now as they were when talks about implementing it first started. A chapter leader, who wished to remain anonymous, reported to me that their chapter had set up a meeting with members of the SOC to help clarify a few things, only for it to be abruptly canceled. They also expressed frustration at attempts to reorganize their chapter with other similar organizations. And this frustration is by no means an isolated incident.
To say that there are fewer leadership positions now than there was last year, which was mentioned both at the Oct. 17 meeting and in an email with Hissong, is technically true, but largely ignores the realities of what it takes to run a chapter. The new system does not explicitly require there to be chapter leaders which is why on paper there are fewer leadership positions. In reality, chapters require a lot of time and effort in order to maintain interest and make sure events happen on a regular basis. Without chapter leaders, the responsibility of meetings and events would fall solely on club leaders. In that case, rather than club leaders having too few responsibilities, as is the feeling now, they would have way too many. Seeing as clubs are nothing without their chapters, the idea that club leaders must come first and everything else can follow is a bit absurd.
In short, the idea to reform the structure of student organizations was wise but poorly communicated and executed. It’s understandable that any new system will have some bumps in the road when it first starts, however, the continuing frustration coming from chapter leaders is evidence that the current system has some serious flaws that need to be addressed. Also, communication between those involved in student organizations and the SOC needs to be greatly improved. Communication, though, is a two-way street. The SOC undoubtedly needs to be more receptive to student input, rather than just paying lip service to student complaints, but club/chapter leaders also need to attend SOC meetings (every Wednesday at 5:30pm) and keep informed on updates sent through email. Considering all the uproar over this new system, I was a bit surprised by the mild turnout at the Oct. 17 meeting. Greater cooperation will be key going forward. As Hissong noted in his email to me, “I’d like to have a club structure that allows groups to operate at NYU Shanghai in the most efficient and least bureaucratic way possible.” I think everyone could agree with that sentiment. Now we just need to make it happen.
This article was written by Ben Haller. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: NYU Shanghai Student Government