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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration


Cabinet of Student Leaders (COSL): Reform or Die

The Cabinet of Student Leaders, or COSL, is an informal network of student leadership at Penn State University. COSL has a long and infamous history as an organization that was supposed to be about social peer networking, but which historically has been used by the administration as an official advisory group — the Vice President of Student Affairs in particular — to subjagate the authority of democratically elected student government leaders in the now defunct Undergraduate Student Government and currently through the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA).

COSL is used by the administration to cull favor among elected and unelected student leaders alike, from the UPUA President to the SPA Executive Director to others, and through dinners and meetings administrators have used COSL to ingratiate themselves and their causes with the often well intentioned student leaders on COSL. This has had disastrous effects on the state of student life at Penn State, as the existence of COSL serves in the end to further derail and decentralize student authority that should dwell within the chambers of student government alone.

In September 2007, Safeguard Old State issued The Roadmap for Change in Student Affairs, calling on students and administrators to radically reform or disband the Cabinet of Student Leaders and other similar undemocratic advisory groups:

6. Status of Advisory Councils & University Affiliates – Those entrusted with chief advisory roles to administrators such as the Off-Campus Student Union (OCSU) and the Council of Student Leaders (COSL) must ultimately be accountable to the student body. Whether this is accomplished through a direct election of their leadership or appointment by the students of the University Park Undergraduate Association, no group can be considered an official voice or representative of the student body to administrators without their being popularly elected.

We are extremely disconcerted to see this holdover from the Triponey era continued under the interim Gail Hurley administration, and we fear that by allowing this cabal of unelected decision makers to continue its existence, there is a de facto disenfranchisement from other, elected, student leaders in ensuring their vote is heeded on major University decisions.

The question that the administration must answer is simple. Is COSL in its current form merely a loosely confederated group of leaders who exist to network with one another and share ideas, or is it what it was under the Triponey era: an unelected, unaccountable advisory body that was used to justify some extremely anti-student practices and policies in the past Student Affairs administration?

These anti-student policies include the removal of student control of the Student Activity Fee (SAF) and assigning it purely to the Office of the Vice President. Food and drinks in classrooms was also banned and defended based on the opinions of some on COSL. The destruction of the Undergraduate Student Government was also supported by members of COSL. When COSL members disagreed with the will of the administration, they were intimidated or removed.

The Cabinet of Student Leaders itself has only two reasonable options:

1. Disband immediately, and recognize the authority of the democratically elected representatives of the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA).

2. Reform as an informal networking endeavor of the UPUA Executive Board, becoming subject to the authority of the UPUA Student Body President.

It’s critical that the questions surrounding COSL be answered before the end of this academic year, if nothing else for the purposes of figuring out just how systemic the change that needs at occur throughout Old Main really is, and how free, accountable students are going to make it happen.

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Comments

Tom,

Didn’t you and Frank Keller and some others meet to discuss a student run, bottom-up caucus of student groups? As someone who’s seen a member of my own student group get kicked out of COSL for standing up to Vicky Triphoney too much, I was really excited to see a student organized initiative. Whatever happened with that?

Additionally, UPUA just passed a resolution last week concerning future goals for UPUA. One of them calls for COSL to be integrated into UPUA and for administrative control over it to be completely removed. Obviously this article is align with what UPUA would like to see in the future concerning COSL. I hope that SOS and UPUA, which seem to have already laid some groundwork for this, can continue that collaboration and see that it goes through.

[…] closed doors and without record — to avoid unnecessary debate and a diversity of ideas (the Cabinet of Student Leaders as an example). Equally problematic is the resulting fighting among splinter groups attempting to […]

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