SGA shifts power to Student Activities
When Bobbie Laur was Towson’s Student Government Association president in 2003-04, she championed the issues of getting more space for student groups and reorganizining sports club funding. That was a time when she thought the SGA had more power than they should.
Laur also vetoed a decision made by the senators that denied the name change of the Diverse Sexual Orientation Collective to the Queer Student Union.
“It came down to a very close vote,” she said. “It didn’t seem like an appropriate decision that the student government should have the decision to make.”
SGA relinquished some of their power Tuesday, Feb. 26, when the senate approved a policy that yields authority to Student Activities to approve student groups for University affiliation.
Previously, for a student group to receive University recognition, members needed to submit an application for SGA review, as well as proof of eight prospective members, a constitution in line with University policies, and an adviser.
The senators would then speak to a group representative after the constitution was reviewed and ask them questions about their mission and what they hope to contribute to campus before approving or denying the group.
A student group representative now needs to meet with a Student Activities faculty representative to discuss these matters, who will approve them as a “Registered Student Organization,” a new term in Student Activities.
RSOs are not SGA funded but can choose two apply for a budget two consecutive semesters on campus after being approved.
Before their two semesters are over, they are still able to apply for the Prove-it and Collaboration Funds.
SGA President Brandy Hall said that through the new process, the senate can only deny a student groups’ request if they do not fulfill those requirements, not based on the purpose of a group. Previously, Hall said, the senate could use any argument on whether or not to approve a group.
“[The resolution] is just changing SGA’s role as far as recognizing a student group,” Brandy Hall said. “Anybody, as a student, should be able to have a group on campus … whether we like the group or not.”
When the proposal was drafted a few months ago, senator and Towerlight contributor Zac McGee was opposed to it, he said.
“I was really concerned that SGA was moving power,” McGee said. “I don’t really see it as SGA giving up power any more, but doing a process that makes more sense [and] that makes the SGA’s job easier and the University’s job easier.”
McGee said the SGA was involved in creating the framework for the policy and provided a lot of input.
“The SGA and the administration worked on this policy for months,” he said. “It wasn’t like the University said ‘this is what it’s going to be and that’s that.’ They talked with us and it was a really collaborative process.”
The policy change comes about one year after senior Matthew Heimbach underwent the process to gain University affiliation for his group Youth for Western Civilization. The group promoted controversial ideals, including a straight-pride day, and received heated backlash from a large portion of the student body.
High-standing administration, like University president Maravene Loeschke, attended multiple SGA meetings to discuss the group, including one in which the senate had the power to approve it for University affiliation and funding.
Schuyler Millham, a member of the senate during the YWC controversy, said he believes the new approval process is more fair because some senators are biased toward the content of groups.
“[Administration] didn’t pressure us, but they did make a point to highlight the fact that they have the right to be a student group, no matter our beliefs,” he said.
Associate Vice President of Campus Life Teri Hall also sat in on those proceedings.
“That’s one of the reasons why students were so angry with student government last year, because they were basing it on the criteria established to make a group,” Teri Hall said.
Brandy Hall said when the QSU applied to be a student group many years ago they were denied three times.
“I would just say it’s a lot of privilege for us and I don’t think that we should be taking people’s natural rights as far as paying student fees and using or abusing that privilege, which has happened in the past,” she said.
Teri Hall said the process alleviates pressure on the SGA to approve or deny University recognition of a student group.
“Technically if they’re meeting the criteria that are established, then they’d have to be passed,” Teri Hall said. “[This will] take the emotion out of it and make it clear-cut and objective.”
The mission of the SGA is “to take a major role as the advocacy body for students by appointing student representatives to sit on University Committees, as well as regular meetings with administrators to ensure the students have a voice in the University decision-making process,” according to the SGA website.
Junior Adam Collins said he doesn’t know SGA’s role on campus and doesn’t ever see members on campus or feel they reach out to gauge student concerns.
“It is important to have a student government but at the same time it limits the influence other students have,” he said. “I don’t think they represent me. It is impossible for them to know my concerns. The Student Government Association is empowered to have their thoughts heard and taken more seriously.”
Patrick Dieguez, 2006-07 SGA president, said only a small percentage of students were actually involved and paid attention to the SGA.
“I think the problem is you have a few passionate folks, maybe 10 or 15 percent, who vote in the election,” he said. “You govern the student groups, talk to different administrators like the provost to offer student opinion. I don’t think that students really understand it, but I think it was really valuable.”
Senior Kelsey Straka said she believes that the SGA does a good job.
“I think they have a lot more power than people realize,” she said. “I’ve noticed over the past couple of years they’ve done better with school spirit things.”
Student Activities and SGA are more closely linked now than when Laur was in office, she said, but SGA is more active in the present day advocating for student issues. The role of SGA on campus in the past is similar to now: being a liaison to administration, providing resources and governance with student organizations and appropriately utilizing school funds.
“I remember seeing the first legislative agenda put together,” she said. “I continue to be impressed for what they are doing.”
In 2003 when Laur was elected president, there was a drop in the number of students voting, with only 1,297 ballots cast out of 10,946 students who were eligible to vote.
The 2011 SGA election saw a total of 3,444 student votes out of an undergraduate population of roughly 18,000.
Teri Hall said she has worked at Towson for 15 years and that SGA used to be less organized.
“The joke was, go to SGA and they will give you money for it,” she said. “It was just easy to get quick money from them to do something. Now SGA is becoming a group that rather than being a funding source for people, we want them to be seen as a voice for students.”
When considering the new recognition process for student groups, a lot of research was done, Teri Hall said.
“William and Mary doesn’t even have a student government,” Teri Hall said. “I don’t know that Towson students understand the kind of responsibility that lies with SGA.”
Salisbury University’s SGA president Katherine Mooney said that they have had trouble with recognition from the students and are working harder to brand themselves on campus.
“We strive to listen to what issues that our students are expressing and turn those into initiatives that we can help solve,” she said. “We also like to empower students so that they know they can make a real change on our campus.”
Teri Hall said that she thinks the new student group approval process will increase the number of student groups and help SGA by removing some of the administration stuff that they have to do.
“There’s so many things about SGA and the way that it’s changed that I’m so proud of,” she said. “The way we interact with student groups has changed.”