SGA needs to be a more representative ‘mouthpiece’
For many years now, the Student Government Association (SGA) on campus has not been an effective body for the students. Meant to represent 20,000 students to the administration and state, the SGA has been the mouthpiece for only a very small number of voters and active RSOs who try to influence the elections.
This body is one that has been on campus for many, many years. It has done some very good things and some very stupid things. In fact, in the 1920s the SGA passed an Act saying that freshman were not allowed to wear mustaches or smoke (yet they had to carry around matches for the upper classmen). It was strictly enforced (seriously).
My point is that the SGA is not a lost cause. Far from it. It is a great group with a lot of potential. However, there are some things that need to be fixed inside the organization itself before it can reach that potential.
First, the students on campus need to elect a President with experience inside the SGA itself. I know the argument against this: “wouldn’t it be better for an outsider who hasn’t been corrupted to come in and change it like that?” No, it wouldn’t. The reason for this is that the SGA President is a highly administrative job, much more so than I believe many people realize.
When the candidates are running, they are filled with energy and ideas about how they are going to change this and that, and everything will be wonderful. Yet when they get the job, they suddenly realize that the realities of the presidency are far different than they thought. They spend the first eight months of their job just figuring out what their job is.
Elect a president who knows how the SGA functions, who is committed to representing everyone – not just a select group – on campus, and one who is willing to work with the Senate on legislation. This will drastically improve the course of the SGA.
This brings me to my second point. In the 1970s, the Board of Trustees created a document that separated the power of the UMass campuses into three groups: the administration, the faculty and the students. It gave each of these groups select powers. The whole idea was that these three groups would have to work together to get things done.
One of the mentalities that has affected the SGA in the past was what I call the “independent mind-set.” This is the belief that the SGA must remain independent of both of these groups. Now, let me be clear: I agree with this idea. The administration should not dominate the SGA and vice versa. There must be a partnership between the groups.
The administration has the legal authority to do almost anything on campus, and they are not going to seek out the students’ involvement or voice. The students must work with the administration to accomplish its goals. For example, which do you think would more successfully persuade the campus to buy from local farms? 1) Passing a Senate resolution saying that we demand it, or 2) Working with someone from food services, doing research, coming up with concrete reasons for making the change, and delivering it to the administration?
The involvement of your residential Senators is my third point. In case it is not obvious by now, I am an SGA insider. In fact, I am one of the Senate’s committee chairs. This article isn’t about calling anyone out in the SGA, because I can tell you quite honestly that I have made my fair share of mistakes since taking office.
Yet, for good or for ill, I am an involved Senator. The SGA has a great opportunity to do good work and many take full advantage of the job presented to them. But too many Senators do not. Too many members of the Senate and other SGA bodies go to the meetings, do a project or two when it is required of them and are otherwise not very active. Many readers won’t believe it, but the SGA is a lot of work and getting people who are willing to do that work into these roles is extremely important.
My fourth point is one of the most important tasks for the SGA: boosting student involvement in both the governing process and the issues on campus. One of the most important ways we can do this is simply to turn out more voters in our elections. With only 12 percent of the student body voting, how can the SGA claim to be representative? It is my belief that an online voting system would rectify this.
If more people are involved in the voting process, more people will pay attention to the SGA and therefore cast better-informed votes.
However, this is not the only way to involve the people. There are many ways to improve the SGA, but the best start is simple. It is the cornerstone of a democratic government: elections.
The SGA is an important group on campus. It represents the only truly democratic voice of the students on campus. Now is the time to take that group, fix these problems and make the SGA a group that the University’s students can cheer about now and for many years to come.
Jarred Rose is a UMass student and SGA Senator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.