Minerva just opened its fifth city — Hyderabad, India — and so far the atmosphere is very positive. Students are enjoying the mild sun on their balconies and the residence’s patio.

Before the stress of academic life and city engagement hit, students had meetings with administration to discuss the new changes to the academic policies.

The strictness of the policies has been toned down somewhat with more lates and absences allowed, although the trade-off is that students must complete make-up work  for all missed classes. The administration has promised that this move will be accompanied by more engaging make-up work tasks to increase learning value.

The Dean of Natural Sciences, Vicky Chandler, explained in a video call open to all students that the decision makers consulted student government in making this change. This would signal a major achievement for the Associated Students of Minerva (ASM).

However, Class of 2019 representative Urmila Janardan explained that Minerva still practices what she labels “design sprint democracy.”

Administration asks the ASM for student ideas, which then disappear into a black box of internal Minerva staff discussion, and come out as a set of finalized policies that the ASM may only revise for language. Real collaboration and student input on changes are still not a true part of the decision making process.

Janardan’s fellow 2019 representative Alberto Martinez de Arenaza points out that this is already progress: a semester ago Minerva would make policies without any student input at all. Now, there is a conversation. He hopes that it is an opening for more involvement down the line.

On this optimistic note, the representatives are also happy to have been able to enact some smart changes that should make ASM work more meaningful for the entire student body.

First, the change to a full-year term will give representatives more time to coherently build initiatives on behalf of students. Second, the ASM has delivered on its promise to be more transparent and has formalized a biweekly newsletter to students. Third, the working group structure has expanded and become more sophisticated over the past semester with several groups working directly with staff.

Janardan believes that the working group model will be the driving force for change in the future. She thinks it fosters a symbiotic relationship between all actors: representatives can delegate action on issues to engaged and affected students while the administration gets to talk to the right people with thought-out ideas on the issue and with the energy to make changes. This gives students a stronger voice than they could usually achieve on their own, while also providing a platform for more critical voices to be heard as ASM can mediate between them and the administration.

Through this improved framework, the representatives also wish for future improvements on communicating to staff and administration what the student experience in the cities is truly like. For now, there is still a “massive gap” between the awareness of staff as shown in the decisions and policies they make, and the situation on the ground, Class of 2020 representative Vinicius Miranda laments.

As the second set of student government representatives lay down their positions, a first era of the Associated Students of Minerva comes to an end – terms will increase to a year, and the size of the ASM will duplicate come the elections from January 25 to 26.

The current ASM representatives have made tacit steps towards building a more proactive and powerful student government. They have delivered on some promises, but the ASM is still not a strong voice that can launch its own change initiatives.

The developing student government framework presents an opportunity for engaged students to take the work done and push further on initiatives and the formalization of student input into Minerva decision making. With 12 ASM representatives to be elected, they will also have greater freedom to push for desired change in their issues of interest.

As the representatives have repeatedly mentioned throughout the semester, they still believe that it is in the hands of the wider student body to use the ASM structure to bring Minerva closer to the ideal vision they want their university to become.

Once again, the students have an opportunity and responsibility to show their commitment to shaping their Minerva experience for the better.

To sign up to be a candidate for the coming year, apply here.

Here is a general overview of what ASM work entails.

For further information, email [email protected], and read the Quest’s previous coverage of student government-related issues.