By Giacomo Bologna, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 28, 2013
It was only a few hours earlier that his flight touched down in Michigan, but Central Student Government President Manish Parikh made sure he was at assembly’s first meeting of the semester on Jan. 15.
After a frenzied CSG presidential election in March that left candidates and their supporters completely immersed in student government, Parikh — who won a plurality of the student vote after barely escaping disqualification from the election — faces a similarly hectic schedule every day.
A typical weekday for Parikh can entail responding to 50 to 60 e-mails, attending as many as five meetings and doing other student government related work that some days totals eight to nine hours — all of which results in about five hours of sleep, he said.
Former CSG President DeAndree Watson, who now works in the office of Charles Pugh, president of the Detroit City Council, said such is the life of a student body president.
“Whenever I wasn’t in class or sleeping, I was doing student government work,” Watson said, adding that “academic sacrifices” were made. He said that being a student and student body president is like “two full-time jobs.”
From platform to presidency
During his term, Parikh has been faced with possible graduate student secession graduate student secession from CSG and a November student government election plagued with several missed deadlines and a faulty ballot. Still, Parikh and his administration have fulfilled or made progress on a majority of their campaign promises.
Parikh broke the mold for CSG when he and LSA junior Omar Hashwi ran and won as independents for the presidency and vice presidency. One of their main promises was to reach out and turn their former opponents’ platforms into CSG policy.
Public Policy senior Kevin Mersol-Barg, who was the presidential nominee of OurMichigan and is founder of the Coalition for Tuition Equality, said Parikh has been supportive of CTE — which advocates in-state tuition rates for Michigan’s undocumented residents. Specifically, Mersol-Barg noted that Parikh has spoken at meetings of the University’s Board of Regents to support tuition equality.
“I didn’t really know what to expect — certainly when he campaigned he said that he would embrace the many campaign goals of his competitors,” Mersol-Barg said. “I think for the most part he’s made a good faith effort to reach out with me at least and see how we can work together.”
No longer a competitor, Mersol-Barg said he’s pleased to see Parikh visibly in favor CTE’s goals.
LSA senior Aditya Sathi, the presidential candidate from MForward, said Parikh has been involved in two issues that he ran on — medical amnesty and the Student Association of Michigan.
Medical amnesty — a policy of not issuing citations to minors seeking medical attention for alcohol-related conditions in many cases — was signed into law over the summer, so there was little Parikh could do for the issue, Sathi noted. He said, however, that he was pleased to see Parikh support a resolution in the fall to include the medical amnesty policy in the University’s statement of rights. He’ll be meeting with Parikh in the near future to continue discussion on the subject.
Sathi, who is also the treasurer of SAM, said Parikh has been supportive of the state-wide coalition of public universities — pointing out that he has sent representatives to SAM meetings, which past presidents have not always been done.
Another campaign promise, Parikh and Hashwi created The International Student Affairs Commission, an organization for issues affecting international students.
Parikh, a dual citizen of the United States and India, also said that promoting entrepreneurship would be a main goal — evidenced by the new Entrepreneurship Commission.
According to the proposed winter 2013 semester budget, the International Student Affairs Commission and Entrepreneurship Commission will be allocated $6,670 and $8,100, respectively, for the winter 2013 semester — making them the two most well-funded CSG commissions.
“Every single entrepreneurship organization on campus is represented on the (entrepreneurship) commission,” Parikh said, adding that this March will be a campus-wide entrepreneurship month with about 15 entrepreneurship related events to be held then.
As candidates, Parikh and Hashwi also promised to bring more prominent musical acts to Ann Arbor.
CSG Treasurer Chris Osborn said the proposed winter 2013 CSG budget allocates $10,000 to Music Matters — a group dedicated to putting on large concerts at the University — making CSG its largest contributor. It did not receive CSG funding last year.
Furthermore, this semester marks the inception of a 24-hour cafe at the Undergraduate Library, another promise of the duo. Bert’s Cafe is now open 24 hours on Sundays through Wednesdays.
While it was not a campaign promise, a major project undertaken by Parikh’s administration has been the CSG interns program where students work with CSG members in teams on different projects like the Take U-M Abroad program.
“Most of these (interns), I’d say, are way smarter than I am or other people in CSG are right now, and if we empower them to effect change when they’re freshman right now, the change that they will unleash on this University two years, three years, four years down the road will be absolutely historic,” Parikh said.
Lastly, Parikh has made good on another promise — albeit an aesthetic one. He has largely refrained from wearing formal wear while conducting CSG business, fulfilling his promise to not wear a suit or tie, which he said was to achieve a better connection with students.
Promises still pending
Parikh and Hashwi promised that professors would have to make syllabi for classes publicly available during enrollment. He said in a recent interview that this will “definitely happen.” The University did not immediately respond to comment on the topic.
Parikh said CSG has been advocating more equitable spending by the University — another campaign promise — and pointed to the Peace and Justice Commission and its action against Adidas last semester as results of that campaign. Parikh acknowledged that his administration was not directly responsible for this activity — the commission has been fighting Adidas since before he was president.
Lastly, Parikh and Hashwi also promised that students would be able to choose their own commencement speaker. While Parikh said he has spoken with administrators regarding this idea, he said he didn’t expect to begin working on it until this semester because commencement is not until May.
Graduate student secession looms over Parikh
While working to keep his campaign promises, Parikh has also been dealing with other events that have come up in his term — most notably, possible graduate student secession from CSG.
Despite having charges brought against it in the Central Student Judiciary twice, the Rackham Student Government’s November elections — during which 69 percent of the 9.5 percent of voting Rackham students voted in favor of secession — were upheld. Furthermore, 64 percent of the 48 percent of Law School students who voted on the issue supported secession as well.
Watson, who does not support graduate secession, said the responsibility of preventing graduate student secession will fall solely on Parikh’s shoulders.
“I think that the student body president serving at that time owes it to the organization and its legacy and its historical significance and also to the student body to make sure (secession) doesn’t happen,” Watson said. “Because there’s nothing good that can come of (secession). It will only divide the student voice.”
Watson said the greatest power of the CSG presidency is the ability to represent the students to the University administration.
“I think everybody who has an opportunity to sit in that seat understands that there isn’t really much that can be done without the support and the follow-through of the University administration,” Watson said. “Being able to sit in a room with them and discuss the issues with students concerns’ and serve in an official capacity as (students’) representative is an extremely powerful and beneficial tool to have.”
Parikh also stressed the need for a single representative for the entire student body.
RSG President Michael Benson, said that while he and his administration support secession, it’s not because Parikh is doing an inordinately bad job. He said he and Parikh even had a sit-down meeting at the beginning of the school year, an uncommon occurrence for RSG and CSG leaders.
“As far as reaching out to grad students, I’d say he’s doing about the same as the last few (CSG presidents),” Benson said.
Benson said he doesn’t know if Parikh has reached out to the professional student community, but he said he heard that Parikh had been in contact with the Graduate Employees’ Organization.
Benson did question, nonetheless, whether Parikh’s action have only been in response to the secession movement.
“It’s certainly on his radar, and that is a step forward,” Benson said.
This is the third major push for graduate student secession in the last 50 years. The previous two attempts failed, but the possibility of losing about two-fifths of its constituents is an issue for CSG and Parikh was clear in his dissent with secession.
“I firmly do believe 100 percent that being united is the best for the entire student body,” he said.
Nonetheless, Parikh said the only action he would be taking against secession would be reaching out to students, administrators and the regents about the historical and future importance of maintaining the current structure of student government.
“At the end of the day, I’m not going to impose my will in any sense,” he said.
Parikh didn’t say whether secession would occur during his time as president, but only stressed the importance that CSG remain intact.
“I sincerely do hope that Central Student Government will for today and for 10 years down the road and for 100 years down the road will continue to represent 42,000 Wolverines on campus and we’ll make every effort to make sure that it does remain unified.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article misstated funding totals for the entrepreneurship commission and international student affairs commission.