A new SGA for a new era

By Daniel Stratford

Over the course of the last decade, the undergraduate Student Government Association (SGA) has come under fire from a myriad of sources for an array of offenses. These range from allegations of governmental sloth to downright illegal practices, such as the provisions made for appointed SGA Senate seats. However, over the past academic year, the SGA – especially the Senate and the Executive branches – has skillfully reformed itself with all deliberate speed in the direction of increased transparency, accountability, and efficacy.

There is a widespread belief that the SGA is nothing but a faux governmental organization, an ineffectual body replete with cynical resume-padders that is devoid of any “actual” authority. A body in which, to quote Macbeth, “all is but toys.” For a time this was the status quo. The SGA acted like a nineteenth-century political machine instead of a body devoted to student governance. The continuation of a self-serving political order took priority over the needs of its student constituency. Instead of unifying students, the SGA undermined them; instead of emboldening students to take possession of their academic destinies, it exploited divisions and wedge issues. For the perpetuation of these offenses, there is no excuse or justification, only the necessity of, to paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, “admitting it frankly and moving forward.”

I am proud to decree that these aspects of the SGA’s existence were and are being cast asunder. Under the leadership of President Brandon Tower every member of the Executive Branch and Senate must now serve on either the Faculty Senate committee or other special committee as per a change to the SGA By-Laws. Indeed, the reformist spirit that became cause célèbre of the past year continues into this year. It manifested itself in the many SGA Senate committees. For example, the overhaul of the SGA election process and the reconfiguration of the Executive Cabinet originated in the Senate Administrative Affairs committee whilst the concept for the lauded textbook rental program and swap market was the brainchild of the Student & Academic Affairs committee. In addition, the Ways & Means committee worked its very hardest last year to both streamline the budgeting process and emphasize a renewed enforcement of the SGA Constitution & By-laws regarding eligibility for SGA funding. The result is a rejuvenated focus on fairness in the distribution of funds as well as fiscal prudence in confounding economic times.

The reforms of both the substance and style of the Executive Cabinet deserve special mention, as they are evidence of what great works the Tower Administration seeks to accomplish in its term. Instead of deciding cabinet appointments through patronage, which often leads to one’s friends being appointed to cabinet seats regardless of qualifications (or lack thereof ), President Tower initiated an open-application process in which any student could apply for a cabinet position. Appointments are now soley based on merit. The result of this reform is a diverse and adroit cabinet that serve in their various capacities as tribunes of the student body, not of the President or the SGA bureaucracy. In conjunction with this intra-Executive Branch reform, the Senate passed a comprehensive overhaul bill for the Cabinet last semester, which included the addition of a Chief of Staff as a replacement for the Secretary of Administrative Affairs, a salary for the Secretary of Sustainability, (formerly the Secretary of the Environment), and reforms to the Secretary of University Policy – (now officially titled ‘Secretary of University Policy & External Affairs) – amongst many others.

These hard-won reforms such as the implementation of online elections, the removal of all appointed Senate seats, the requirement of SGA Senators to serve one or more Faculty Senate committees, the complete reorganization of the Executive Branch and the illumination of the appointment process for Cabinet members by means of open application are but a few of the many reforms that have been accomplished in the past year alone. There are many more to come.

In this sense, the main focus of the SGA, through its serious internal restructuring, has not been merely for the sake of the reform-minded, but also for the sake of the good government-minded, the cheaper textbook–minded, and the new bike rack–minded. This has not just been a battle for the integrity of the SGA, but for the hearts, minds, and the very soul of the student body, which it purports to represent and advocate for. It is, to put it succinctly, a new declaration of competence. It is an assertion that the SGA again personifies the core values of the student body, and that it is unshakably invested in those interests once again. Paraphrasing the great Roman politician and orator Cicero, it gives the SGA a special satisfaction to address the concerns of the students once more.

Daniel Stratford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]