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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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SGA special session attended by President Banks

Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Texas A&M University President, Dr. M. Katherine Banks spoke to the Student Senate in the John J. Koldus Building on Monday, Feb. 21, 2022.

Texas A&M President M. Katherine Banks came before the Student Senate on Monday, Feb. 21, at a special session called by Senate Speaker Iman Ahmed, regarding concerns for The Battalion, Fish Camp, Draggieland and student involvement in major university decisions for student organizations.
The session was called following the previous Student Senate meeting on Feb. 16, in which Ahmed, a public health senior, announced she had reached out to Banks and was told Banks did not have an opening until March 9. However, after much outcry from students across campus on the administration’s decisions of late, Banks was able to come before a special session meeting on Monday afternoon.
Before Banks gave her presentation to the Senate, multiple students came forward during open forum, including representatives from KANM radio and the Hispanic Presidents’ Council.
Beginning the open forum, general engineering sophomore Audrey Shaw shared that she had started the #SaveTheBatt petition, which has garnered over 7,100 signatures, because of her concerns for the administration’s previous demand that The Battalion stop printing. 
“This was an important issue [and] I knew I couldn’t physically make the change myself,” Shaw said. “Our newspaper is being threatened; regardless of its national recognition, the integrity of student voices have been lost.” 
Sociology senior Gwen Howerton, the public relations director for KANM radio, said she was concerned about the potential effects from this administrative action.
“If President Banks without notice could demand such concessions from [The Battalion] or try to evict them, it brings into question what KANM and other student [organizations] may be required to do by the university to stay in good standing,” Howerton said.
In Banks’ opening remarks, she expressed her feelings toward the student body’s reaction to recent controversies surrounding several student organizations and diversity on campus, along with other general remarks. 
“I feel pride. I am proud about how much the student body cares about free speech, democracy and individual rights. I would never attempt to limit the voice of students,” Banks said. “Last fall, I vowed to bring back the Department of Journalism, and at no point were there any plans of a reduction to Batt funding or their loss of [Memorial Student Center] space.” 
This comment comes in direct contrast with the original demand given to The Battalion staff on Thursday, Feb. 10, which gave the ultimatum of giving up its official student organization status and join the university, or be stripped of university resources — including its office space in the MSC — and stay an independent organization.
Editor’s Note: The Battalion has since received communications from university administrators that these original demands are now void. 
In regard to A&M System Policy 09.02.01, Banks said the university does not have to approve any messaging from a student organization.
Banks also said the students at A&M are a priority to her position as president.
“Let me be clear, I truly believe that students are the heart of this university, and my primary mission is your education,” Banks said.
This differs from Ahmed’s comments at the Feb. 16 Senate meeting, recalling what Banks had said during a recent monthly meeting with student leaders, that she disagreed with the contention that students are the forefront of Texas A&M.
Tiffany Ufodiama, political science sophomore and chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, questioned Banks about her statement conveyed in the last meeting.“Do you believe that students make a huge impact here at Texas A&M University? If so, was it said during your monthly meetings with [Student Body President Natalie] Parks, Speaker Ahmed and other student leaders that students are not the forefront of this university? Do you still stand by that statement?” Ufodiama asked.
Banks replied, “My view is that we are a community at the forefront of this: all of us, faculty, staff, students, former students, etc. We’re in this together.” 
Banks also explained the rationale behind the decision concerning The Battalion and her  previous wishes to cease weekly print editions, a decision made without input from members of The Battalion, journalism professors or members of the journalism working group.
“Our thoughts regarding The Battalion in print were based only on undeniable trends in industry, not any particular Battalion article, advertisement or opinion,” Banks said. “My commitment to free speech remains strong. I would never attempt to influence or control the content of the student newspaper. It is and must remain an independent voice of the students.”
After her presentation, the floor was opened to questions from senators. Biology junior Kristina Samuel, chair of the Community Relations committee, asked Banks if she could explain the ultimatum The Battalion was given.
“What was the rationale for the 24-hour ultimatum the Battalion first received? If it was as time sensitive as this, why was The Battalion only notified near the end of the decision?” Samuel asked. 
“That was a stumble in a sense that we had not notified [The Battalion],” Banks said. “This was our error, and it shouldn’t have happened.” 
Jenna Beyer, an environmental geosciences junior, asked Banks whether the decision to end print and move The Battalion under the university would ultimately help the student body.
“That’s why I asked the journalism working group to evaluate all aspects of the terms of this decision,” Banks said. 
Banks also said she increased the student involvement in the journalism working group after hearing about a lack of it.
“When I learned only one student was on the [journalism department] working group, I asked that the current editors, another Battalion staffer and their adviser be added to the group,” Banks said.
Samuel later asked Banks if she would be open to a reversal of the decision given to The Battalion.
“I’ve been very clear about the fact that I need more input,” Banks said. “In fact, that’s what I’ve asked the journalism working group to evaluate and come back and let’s talk [about that]. I don’t want to make an assumption of what that working group will decide. And you do have representation in that group. So, let the process play out, and we’ll talk.” 
Kieran Tillis, a chemical engineering junior, asked one of the final questions of the night, inquiring as to the current and future status of The Battalion.
“Can you confirm that The Battalion will keep their status as a student organization under your administration for as long as you serve?” Tillis said.
“Yes,” Banks said. “I don’t think that we can ask a student organization to give up their status.”
Banks additionally addressed concerns regarding Draggieland, which has been hosted by MSC Town Hall for two years, but following an unclear administrative decision, was not able to be scheduled, and has since been taken on by several LGBTQ+ campus groups. Banks said her administration did not disallow the MSC Town Hall from hosting this event. Banks referred to the application of Draggieland, stating that it had been accepted. However, the sponsorship given to that event was subsequently revoked, according to officials in MSC Town Hall on Nov. 19, 2021. 
“My understanding of the events is that there was consideration of an application by a student organization to sponsor Draggieland and that application was accepted,” Banks said. “We did not disallow Draggieland.”
Computer science senior Samuel Jefferis, chair of the Academic Affairs committee, asked for clarification regarding the Draggieland situation.
“There are members of the MSC Town Hall right here in this very room who were told that their Draggieland 2022 proposal cannot be submitted or else the implication was there will be people within MSC terminated,” Jefferis said. “Why was a Draggieland proposal not allowed to be submitted in the first place?”
Banks said she was unable to answer this question.
Banks was also asked about the recent changes to Fish Camp by computer engineering junior and chair of the Student Services committee Fawaz Syed. Syed focused his questions on the recent changes to Fish Camp’s values and mission statement, specifically the removal of “diversity.”
“Do you support the office of the [Vice President of Student Affairs’] decision to require or expect Fish Camp to force a change in their mission and values which removed diversity as one of their values and removed ‘creating a universally accepted support system’ from their mission?” Syed asked.
Banks said the change was because the values of Fish Camp are supposed to mirror those of the university.
“In the mission statement, there is a clear statement that Fish Camp is to ‘share the values and traditions of Texas A&M University,’” Banks said. “It is important that we align the values of that event with the mission statement.”
Jefferis asked Banks about the lack of written communication between administration and student organizations like Fish Camp, inquiring as to if this was policy.
“During the flagging process of Fish camp and Draggieland, the administration seemed to have a rule of purely oral discussion with students and to create no written documentation,” Jefferis said “Did you have knowledge or direct anyone to limit the written documentation of both Draggieland and Fish Camp?”
“I was not aware of this,” Banks said. “I support the creation of documentation in situations where students deserve a voice.”
Syed also asked about this issue, asking Banks if Fish Camp could provide written records of decisions made by administration.
“Could your office or the office of the VPSA [Vice President of Student Affairs] provide written documentation to Fish Camp regarding why Fish Camp operations and leadership are requiring approval from the VPSA?” Syed asked.
Banks said that she would talk with Vice President of Student Affairs, or VPSA, Gen. Joe Ramirez to get these records.
Syed also asked about recent changes regarding the status of Fish Camp.
“Fish Camp has been recently redefined as a program instead of a student organization, which it has been for 60 years,” Syed said. “However, no written documentation has been provided to Fish Camp leadership by university administration or staff that shows its historical status as a university program. Can you commit to your office or the VPSA’s office providing documentation of Fish Camp always being a program or when was this change made?”
Banks responded by saying that she would have to look at policy and would have to check to see when this change was made.
A common theme mentioned by Banks referred to the need for conversation and student input in future decisions.
“I’m committed to you to define what communication is through the processes I mentioned, to rebuild the trust [between administration and students],” Banks said. “I think that is an important step.”
Banks said the university is at a unique point in its development, which if handled properly can help A&M grow.
“We have problems we’ve never faced before,” Banks said. “We have opportunities we’ve never had before. This is a unique time in our history to position us to become one of the top universities in the nation. I have an obligation to take the steps necessary to achieve that goal.”
Banks said this conversation will be continued in the near future with Ramirez when he meets with Student Senate.
“There are some questions where you are unable to answer due to your lack of personal knowledge,” Samuel said. “Could you potentially have VPSA Ramirez come to Student Senate to answer some of these questions?”
“Absolutely yes,” Banks said.

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