Senate responds to objections over new picnic tables

Photo by Abby Zwart
Photo by Abby Zwart

The purchase and installation of three picnic tables by Calvin’s student senate has sparked online debates, a change.org petition and a prank moving the tables to the center of commons lawn. However, student senate responded that much of the opposition was fueled by a misunderstanding of the motives behind the project.

The picnic tables were proposed in October, when a student who worked as a summer research assistant pointed out that there were no shady places for students to eat lunch. Student senate began working closely with physical plant on the project, who suggested the library patio as the ideal place for the tables’ installation.

Contrary to original Chimes’ reports, Senate had no plans to place their logos on the tables. “We talked about adding plaques,” student senator Colin Chesla said, “but it would have been about $10 per table, certainly not the $400-800 number that was out there. And when it came to the vote, the plaques were voted off.”

But many students felt that installing picnic tables was not the best allocation of senate’s funds.

“It doesn’t seem like a wise idea to spend $5,000 on a picnic area that is not necessary when our college is struggling financially,” said sophomore Autumn Oostindie.

Sophomore Kelsey Veldkamp, who also worked as a research assistant last summer, felt that senate should put more funding into programs such as “Take a Prof Out,” which gave students money to take their professors out to eat on campus. When she came in for meal tickets in February, she was told that the tickets for that program were already used up.

“You can’t tell me at one moment that you don’t have enough money in a program that students appreciate, and then at the next that you have all this extra money to spend. I find meeting with my profs to be a really valuable thing. Picnic tables, not so much.”

But student senate wanted to make clear that the money it used was exclusively designated for funding student ideas and was separate from the rest of their budget.

Executive Vice President Josiah Sinclair also noted that the money could not contribute to Calvin’s debt or general budget. “Calvin budgets our money very carefully,” he said. “If we had not used it, this money would have never gone to pay off debt. It would have either gone to fund student orgs or stayed to fund more student ideas.”

But the opposition to the tables went further than just word of mouth. A petition protesting their installation picked up 183 signatures in the few days it was up.

“We think [Senate] really could have taken into account the student opinion because a lot of the people we were talking to thought that the tables weren’t the best idea for the campus.” said sophomore Andrew Harris, who started the petition with a group of his friends. “We didn’t know that the tables had been bought at the time.”

When Harris realized the purchase had already been finalized, he changed the wording on the petition to ask for a “more effective plan to improve our campus.”

“Our goal was really to give the student body a forum in which they could express their views,” said Harris, “And to show student senate in a respectful way that there is a lot of student opinion out there that they may not have tapped into.”

Other objections to the picnic tables pointed to an initiative to move the community garden from the Knollcrest East apartments to the main campus. Proponents of the community garden applied to senate for funding from senate’s $10k Initiative, and many students voiced preference for the garden over the tables.

“On March 4, we voted to go ahead with the picnic tables,” Chesla responded. “The community garden proposal came in the same day, and that night was the first night we had heard of it. We offered our support but the fact that they came in literally at the last minute was not helpful. They would have had much more success if they had come in earlier.”

A prankster caused further confusion when he or she dragged the tables from the library patio where they were installed into the center of commons lawn, prompting rumors that that was where the permanent installation would be. As of Monday night, the tables had been returned to their intended destination.

After learning more of the information behind the picnic table installation, Harris concluded, “To be honest, I think the tables are fine. Now that they’re bought, they’re there, we’ll make use of them. But I think this is a good lesson for future senators and future proposal that you can have this grand idea, but if you don’t have student support, maybe it’s not going to go over so well.”

About the Author

Kate Parsons

Kate Parsons is the Chimes Campus News Co-Editor for the 2014-2015 school year. She is a senior studying Writing and International Development.

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