November 4, 2014

After the petition: SG’s next steps for image, purpose

Since the student criticism and submission of the petition for a referendum on Student Government (SG) stipends came to light last month, SG members have been on the defensive, insisting that they are mainly an administrative body that funds student activities and events.

SG currently maintains $2.1 million in funding per year with an “incredibly low overhead,” according to   SG President Tyler Kissinger. Additionally, approximately $16,000 was left from last year’s budget of around $2 million.

  Some students believe that SG could clarify its role in RSO funding to students.

“There is a lot at the core of SG that is vital for many RSOs, and it is a good thing that students are given responsibility to decide such matters,” said fourth-year Apratim Gautam. “How central a role SG takes in deciding matters that pertain to the student body, and how well it is able to elucidate this role, make up pretty important factors in terms of how its reputation changes.”

Other students believe that SG has done little to represent them and the organizations with which they are affiliated.

“For the sake of being totally transparent, I think Student Government should not exist, in any form. I think it’s inevitably a useless body whereby [a] few students get to toss favors to their friends on one hand, and harass the administration about their particular agenda on the other. There is clearly no constituency to which they are responsive,” Isaac Breslow, a second-year, said.

Second-year Maheema Haque disagrees with the claim that SG does not serve the student body, but does believe it should be more transparent. “I would like SG to act as a liaison between the student body and the University’s administration, although I’m not sure to what extent they act in this capacity already. I would want them to be known for organizing events for students, and being a bigger presence on campus than they are now. They should be taken more seriously,” she said.

College Council (CC) members, like fourth-year representative Scott Loring, are well aware of the criticism they are receiving.

“I think that the student body perceives SG as providing little value to the campus as a whole. There is widespread sentiment that the members of SG are involved for themselves, that members do it for résumé credit, to feel important, et cetera,” Loring said. “SG is criticized alternately for a) doing things poorly or not in accordance with student wishes and b) doing nothing. Many of the most strident critics have no desire to interact with SG at all. There are people who would abolish SG at great cost to the student body.”

In response to student criticisms, SG members say that there are policies that could be revised in order to improve its current reputation.

“SG is not equivalent to an RSO. SG is more equivalent to the University administration. This problem, along with the perception of controversy, is not a reason to take a course of action. The problem is the language of the Executive Order,” said fourth-year CC representative Ione Barrows at SG’s first meeting about the stipend petition last month.

Other SG initiatives have been geared toward more student involvement in University affairs, such as events that allow students to speak to University officials and advisory boards to address student concerns. After the dining hall health code violations in 2012, SG created a Campus Dining Advisory Board, where students were able to discuss possible changes with Richard Mason, the executive director of campus dining.

SG President Tyler Kissinger said he is currently working with the  SG communications director Alita Carbone to increase connectivity between students and SG members.

“We are working to put more information that is relevant to the whole student body so folks understand the work we do and how it can be of benefit to them,” he said. “Our Director of Communications is going to be managing a regular newsletter so that students who want more frequent updates can hear from us more often. On the social media front, we’ve also been working to put out more information that is relevant to students, and so far have seen a great deal of success.”

SG expects to announce its next steps regarding the submission of the petition shortly.