This April’s Student Government (SG) elections will include a vote on a referendum to split the College Council (CC) and the Graduate Council (GC), reshaping the current SG into separate undergraduate and graduate student governments.
If passed, the new SG structure will become effective on June 21, the first day of summer quarter. Elections will be conducted as usual for the executive slate, community and government liaison, graduate and undergraduate liaisons to the board of trustees, and CC. However, the specific roles and titles of the elected executive slate are likely to be different at the new Undergraduate Student Government (USG), according to CC representative Allen Abbott. The details of that change will be available in the petitions of candidacy to be released on Wednesday, April 7.
Currently, both councils are subsidiary organizations of the SG Assembly, which would be dissolved and replaced by the new USG once the referendum passes. Engage, the current Executive Slate at SG, would end its term on June 12. Between June 13 and 20, the elected slate will serve the original role under the current SG structure. Beginning June 21, the elected slate, community and government liaison, and undergraduate liaison to the board of trustees will be inaugurated to the new USG. CC will formally confirm the underlying structure of the USG on Tuesday, April 6.
The referendum was warranted by the By-Law Updates to Increase Leadership and Development (BUILD) Act, which was passed unanimously by SG on February 15. The act also created a transition committee, consisting of seven current CC members and chaired by Abbott, to take charge of guiding the reorganization process. The committee has the power to recommend constitutional amendments and reforms of the USG units in order to ensure a smooth transition. Abbott expects the committee to exist until the end of the 2021–22 school year so that it can help navigate issues that arise from the transition to the USG.
According to GC Executive Vice President, Law School student Max Freedman (A.B. ’18), who has spent seven years in SG as both an undergraduate and graduate student, the councils represent separate student populations who will be better served by separate councils.
“The justification for doing it 20 years ago, when there was not a strong Grad Council or strong College Council, was that we needed something,” Freedman said. Now, he feels the interests of undergraduate and graduate students diverge enough that it no longer makes sense for them to share a single government body.
“I think that what people look for from Grad Council are small quality of life wins that move the needle into something bigger,” Freedman said, citing the recent collaboration between GC and UChicagoGRAD that resulted in food reimbursements of up to $30 for all graduate students at the University.
While graduate members see a working relationship between the council and administrators as critical to continuing improvements, Freedman felt that many undergraduate members approach their role on SG differently. In his view, undergraduates deprioritized that relationship in favor of their legislative agenda.
“It seems, from seven years, that the relationship with administrators isn’t of primary importance [to undergraduates]—that passing these resolutions to make important statements is [the] driving force,” Freedman said. “We need Grad Council to be an advocate for a generalized graduate experience, and that requires it to have a seat at the table.”
Separating the councils is also in the interest of undergraduates, according to Freedman. One of the primary duties of the SG is to allocate funds for student activities. Currently, CC and GC must agree on budget allocation, even though almost all of the funds go to undergraduate organizations, according to Freedman. If the BUILD Act is passed, all of the nearly $2 million in annual funds from Levi Hall would be freely distributed by the new USG. “There’s no vote on that. The money is yours—it’s controlled by college students and college students only,” Freedman said.
Abbott said that CC achievements in the past year, like its partially successful efforts to secure a pass/fail grading option for students during the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent expansion of the University’s Maroon Dollars program to several non-University contracted businesses, show the potential of an effective SG. In his view, building a new USG “from the ground up” will provide an opportunity to reshape how the organization functions and help it provide quality of life improvements for students.
“I think what we’ve seen, this year more than others, is that Student Government, especially on the undergraduate level, can do quite a bit,” he said. “What we’re doing is ensuring in this process that we create a Student Government that systematically, year over year, does continue to do a lot and really punch above its weight more so than it has in previous years.”
SG elections will take place from April 21 to 23.
Correction on April 1, 2021, 1:51 p.m. CDT:
A previous version of the article referred to CC Maroon Dollars expansion to include "off-campus businesses." The language was updated to reflect the official term, "non-University contracted businesses," used in the agreement reached between CC and UChicago Dining.