Students Push for Spot in Green Center

After encountering difficulties over contract negotiations, students and staff are finally making headway in the fight for joint ownership of the Sustainability Resource Center.

Members of the Student Sustainability Collective and administrators from the Campus Sustainability Staff met with Assistant Vice Chancellor Russell Thackston on Feb. 3, with students hoping to draw up a contract that would give both groups equal access to the center.

Students approached administrators two years ago about creating a space like the SRC to consolidate sustainability efforts around campus.

The university provided funding for the center through the Green Initiative Fund, and SRC opened its doors last November.

However, the SSC and CSS have been prohibited by Campus Sustainability Coordinator Maggie Souder from using the space. Souder has continually pushed back the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, which is a legal document used to outline the SRC’s terms of use.

In the interim, students have not been allowed shared ownership of the space.

The Feb. 3 meeting cleared lines of communication between the two parties, whose discussions had come to a standstill after numerous disputes over the terms of the MOU.

Thackston will mediate negotiations between the two parties by comparing both their MOU proposals and finding a suitable compromise.

“[The SSC] has agreed to share with me [their] preferred version of the MOU,” Thackston said in a statement. “I’ll compare it to the [students’] proposed MOU, and follow up with another meeting with the SSC representatives.”

The students’ appeal to Thackston was not their first attempt to negotiate a space agreement with administrators. SSC members have previously met with Associated Students Advisor Lauren Weiner, University Centers Director Paul Terzino and Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Life Gary Ratcliff for guidance on how to approach the situation.

“We sought advice from higher level administration on how to proceed with the situation,” SSC Student Director Rishi Ghosh said. “They were very helpful and made sure not to side with anyone, but just offer advice.”

Both parties also met with the University Centers Advisory Board on Jan. 25 to air their concerns regarding the MOU.

UCAB encouraged the two groups to resolve the matter by Week 10.

“The consensus was that if there was still dispute after 10th week, they would be more strict with the lease and apply more pressure,” Ghosh said.

According to Ghosh, members of the SRC say the organization is incorrectly leased under the department of External and Business Affairs and is more appropriately categorized under the department of Resource Management and Planning.

The organization plans to petition to change the lease to be under Vice Chancellor of Resource Management and Planning Gary Matthews, who oversees the same department Thrackston works for.

As an incentive to move discussions along, UCAB members said they will not transfer the lease until the dispute is entirely resolved.

Both parties agreed that Thackston’s new role in MOU negotiations has accelerated and facilitated the process.

“We’re moving forward at a much faster rate now,” Ghosh said.

Thackston was also optimistic.

“I’m confident that with more discussion — and willingness on everyone’s part to be flexible in achieving our common vision — we will be able to develop an MOU that provides the framework for a long-term productive and symbiotic partnership,” Thackston said.

Readers can contact Ayelet Bitton at [email protected].

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