SGA has not yet resumed operations since the Senate voted to immediately adjourn on Jan. 29 in protest against administrative oversight.
At that time, SGA stated in a press release that it was adjourning to “bring light to current issues faced with balance of power between the Student Government Association (SGA) and its administrators.”
SGA President Kyle Fuson says that the current goal is to amend the SGA constitution to give more autonomy to SGA.
“We really want to focus primarily on our constitution,” Fuson said. “We’re currently in the process of revising the constitution and bylaws, so we’ll touch up on that [administrative power] and some specific points that are outlined that we’ve been discussing in meetings.”
While the Senate’s vote to adjourn was unexpected by both administration and students, there were both specific events and building frustrations that led to the protest.
Leading up to the Adjournment
Last Monday’s press release cites two specific instances that SGA feels demonstrate the imbalance of power between it and administration. The first was a proposed “free public posting board where students could post any flyers or information at their own discretion.”
SGA Director of External Relations Landon Houghton says that this was met by resistance from administration due to concerns about potential unchecked vulgarity.
“We immediately found resistance from administrations saying that we were going to abuse the board and put vulgar comments on there, which we thought was hindering the students’ first amendment rights,” Houghton said.
Houghton says that the idea was killed before it reached the Senate.
“It wasn’t even allowed to hit the Senate, it was shut down earlier than that,” Houghton said.
“We had to put in work orders and we got declined before we were able to put those in because of the vulgar comments,” Houghton said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Shana Meyer is concerned that the death of this bill is being conflated with the use of veto power by administration.
“There was not legislation that was ever presented for that, so it wouldn’t be a technical veto or a real veto for that,” Meyer said.
Meyer says that the idea was brought to Cabinet and that suggestions were made to the Senate for a potential bill.
“The reason that we bring things to Cabinet or have other people look at it is for various perspectives,” Meyer said, “and there were some ideas brought up within that Cabinet meeting that we then took back to Senate.”
“We had offered the opportunity to have a board here in this union [Blum] so that weather wouldn’t affect it and so that the opportunity would still be there,” Meyer said. “And then we had asked if there were some other rules or regulations that could be set up to help with some of the concerns about the posting board and essentially that’s where it was last left was that communication back to Senate.”
The second item that was addressed in the press release was the implementation of the Judicial Branch, which was added to the constitution on May 4, 2017. According to the press release, the judicial branch “was meant to serve as a group of unbiased peers to review minor student violations of campus policy.”
SGA President Kyle Fuson says that the branch was put in place before details were properly sorted out.
“I just think that the past administration implemented a judicial branch before we had all of our ducks in a row,” Fuson said. “Right now it’s just house keeping and making sure that everything is up to where it needs to be and filling in the blanks that were left from previous year.”
Meyer says that former SGA Assistant Director of External Relations Brad Stanton was responsible for much of the progress that did occur, but that not everything was finished.
“Brad Stanton did a lot of work on a judicial branch and had a lot of vision for the judicial branch and as such started to make some constitutional changes and bylaw changes, and unfortunately it didn’t all get off the ground,” Meyer said. “So that leaves us in a position with a new senate wanting to have one, but again nothing written down.”
SGA hopes to resolve this issue in the amended constitution.
Current Constitution and Bylaws
Currently the SGA constitution states that all action must be approved by administration.
Article II, Section 2 states the following: “The SGA Senate shall be the main voting body of the SGA and shall enact such legislation as its members deem necessary in order to carry out legislative function. All action must be reviewed and approved by the University administration.”
Additionally, Article II, Section D states the following: “The SGA President shall both sign the legislation, and then forward it to the Division of Student Affairs; or, the SGA President shall veto the legislation, and then inform the Executive Vice President of his/her decision at the regular meeting of the Senate following the legislation’s original passage.”
While this language does not explicitly give administrators veto power over the SGA in that it does not include the word ‘veto,’ it does require administrative involvement.
SGA Executive Vice President Reece Christensen says that this is a key distinction to be made.
“The distinction between the veto and the statement that everything needs to be approved by the administration is that there’s no actual process saying ‘hey, this is who can veto. This is what constitutes something that could be vetoed,’ and there’s no check on that action,” Christensen said.
Christensen says that this constitutes unchecked power over SGA.
“The administration can say ‘this constitutes a veto,’ and it doesn’t say how we can combat it,” Christensen said. “Basically, the administration can say whatever they want and have it be an official process with that ambiguous wording.”
Meyer says that administrative power is checked by the Board of Governors.
“I think it is a check and balance,” Meyer said. “Yes, we have the two or three branches of government with Senate, but even things that we do on the Cabinet level still have the check and balance of our Board of Governors. I think if you look at the history of that veto power it has been used very sparingly.”
SGA’s Overall Concerns
Christensen says that the goal of this protest is to emerge with a stronger and more self-sufficient SGA.
“My goal in all this is to make sure that the SGA is as strong and as effective as it can be,” Christensen said. “And that requires us to not have a veto power over us and we need to have some involvement in the appeals process in the student code of conduct and allow for us to be able to make sure that the administration doesn’t impose things on us arbitrarily.”
“The SGA is concerned about the heavy-handedness that the administration has shown in regards to our processes and the way we operate,” Christensen said.
Fuson says that students outside of SGA have similar concerns.
“Students have run into problems whether that be the process of how the university operates,” Fuson said, “if they want to plan something, if they want to create change on a university level, the process sometimes hinders them from achieving that goal.”
Houghton is concerned about a lack of consistency in how students are treated by administration.
“In general, there’s a lot of inter department communication that goes on and we find resistance there and it falls under this whole notion where we’re treated like kids whenever we talk to administration about things like this,” Houghton said. “But whenever we are responsible for a task they want us to do, they treat us like adults.”
Administration’s Overall Concerns
Administration had no knowledge that the adjournment was coming. Meyer says that administration was blindsided by the protest.
“I think a lot of us were very very blindsided last Monday and it was very unfortunate that it had to happen that way,” Meyer said.
Meyer said that she had not heard any concerns before about administrative veto power.
“I’ve never heard any concern about the veto power in the past,” Meyer said. “I believe Jessica [Frogge] looked up the number of pieces of legislation that had actually been vetoed in the past and I think that there had been literally one in the 70s or 80s.”
Meyer says that the language in the constitution and bylaws is a safeguard against potential ignorance within SGA.
“Universities are full of policies and procedures and backgrounds and I wouldn’t expect anyone to know all of those in a year,” Meyer said. “And even if one person knew and understood all of those in a year, I wouldn’t expect an entire body. It isn’t their job to know all of those policies and procedures”
In addition, she says that it would also be helpful in instances of a lack of advising combined with a difficult path to implementation.
“I think sometimes something might be a great idea, but in implementation it’s very very challenging,” Meyer said. “And perhaps the way legislation is written would be very difficult to implement. In those types of situation, my hope would be that there could be advising that occurs before its ever passed through the Senate. Unfortunately, there are time where those wheels mover very quickly. So I could see in that instance veto being helpful.”
Meyer says that she recognizes the Senate’s right to protest, but she believes that at least some of the issues can be resolved through communication.
“SGA senate has the power and the opportunity to shut down if that’s what they so choose to do,” Meyer said. “I do think that’s a very powerful statement and I think some of the concerns that they had were things, and are things, that can be talked about and resolved.”
She says that a larger conversation needs to begin between administrators and students.
“I think what’s happening right now is we have a couple of students who are in the know and we’re not having the larger conversation,” Meyer said. “It’s like the ultimate game of telephone. I think some things have been misinterpreted, whether that be through tone or one persson’s telling of a situation and that goes both ways I think sitting down and having a conversation could really work things out.”
A meeting was held between Meyer, Fuson, Christensen and Administrative Coordinator Jessica Frogge met on Feb. 2 to begin discussing each other’s concerns and possible solutions. Fuson says that he felt good about the way the meeting went.
“I’m very optimistic about the future of SGA after that meeting,” Fuson said. “I think it was very important that we had that conversation with Shana, however I wish that we had been able to have that conversation sooner than it was.”
Meyer sees the meeting as the beginning of a process toward a solution.
“I don’t expect there to every be a one time sit down conversation where everyone’s happy and everything’s resolved, but I think we can continue work through some of these processes,” Meyer said.
Meyer want to use the channels that currently exist to resolve these problems.
“I think that on some of these specific issues– the bulletin board and some of those other pieces– I’m not at all interested in having a tit-for-tat or a back-and-forth with students,” Meyer said. “I think if there’s a need and a desire, let’s work with the channels that we have to make things happen.”
Houghton says that SGA hopes to resume normal business as soon as possible.
“These issues aren’t easily fixed and there’s a lot of bac-an-forth talking that has to happen,” Houghton said. “SGA really hopes that we can get this done in a timely manner and get back to our regularly scheduled sessions.”
Currently SGA is in the process of meeting with President Robert Vartabedian and Meyer to further discuss concerns.
Christensen said that he is not worried about potential push back from the administration due to the obligation that he feels he has to students.
“If we get push back from the administration, I’m not too concerned about it,” Christensen said. “The reason that we’re doing this is because we represent students. The administration is not elected by students. Kyle and I were. If this doesn’t go well, I would definitely see if we could get more student involvement to expand the protest.”
The Feb. 5 meeting was cancelled and there is no word currently on whether the Feb. 12 meeting will occur. SGA is still conducting some of its day-to-day business including FOC, events and public relations. Neither administration nor SGA gave a timetable for when normal operations might resume.