It’s official- WAC is on its own

SGA_Oct1915_VPStanton-web
After a vote of the student body, the Western Activities Council split from the Student Government Association, forming a separate organization Friday, Oct. 16. The ballot question passed a two-thirds vote of Western students. SGA has been discussing the policy change for multiple weeks, but now that the students have approved the constitutional amendment, it has been added to the constitution. “It’s official now,” Brad Stanton, executive vice president of SGA, said. “President Vartabedian has already signed the policy, so the split has happened.” The vote passed amidst concerns of lacking communication from SGA to the student body regarding the change. But SGA Executive President Ida Haefner dismisses these concerns. “We provided a link to the new constitution, highlighting the changes about WAC,” Haefner said. “Unfortunately, there’s not too much more we could have done.” SGA Administrative Coordinator Jessica Frogge suggests that most students won’t notice any effect from the policy change. “To the student, they’re probably not going to notice a lot of difference,” Jessica Frogge, SGA administrative coordinator, said. “To SGA, it’s one less thing that technically, probably shouldn’t fall under them anyway.” But even senators and WAC members won’t notice any changes until next year. The main revision caused by the amendment is the way WAC requests funding. Before the policy vote, WAC had to request money on a line item basis, meaning SGA could deny funding for specific activities or programs. “Next year, WAC will submit a full proposal for funding of their different events,” Stanton said. “For this year, they’ll continue receiving funding the same as always.” Though the change may seem redundant, Frogge stresses that the separation is in line with other universities. “All of the universities I’ve talked to unanimously have their activities association separate from their student government,” Frogge said.

SGA deliberates about spending student money on SGA polos

Sen. Cierra Edwards advocates for a senator-registration fee that would cover the cost of SGA polo shirts.
In the spirit of spending student money wisely, the Student Government Association deliberated Monday about a topic previously considered trivial: SGA polos. Currently, each SGA member is provided a student-funded polo that the individual may choose to keep if they leave SGA, funding provided by SGA's $75 per semester student fee. Though most senators originally deemed such a discussion a waste of time, SGA Executive Vice President Brad Stanton pointed out why a revision of current policies may be necessary. “We spend about $2,000 of the students’ money on polos every year,” Stanton said during Monday’s meeting. “My concern is always trying to spend student money appropriately and I’m not sure that much money on shirts is the way to do that.” [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300"]Sen. Cierra Edwards advocates for a senator-registration fee that would cover the cost of SGA polo shirts. Sen. Cierra Edwards advocates for a senator-registration fee that would cover the cost of SGA polo shirts.[/caption] Stanton expresses concern that students often join SGA and receive a free SGA polo, but leave as soon as they are given the shirt. “They are here for two meetings; they get a polo; we pay $30,” Stanton said. Rather than giving polos to students for free, Stanton and SGA President Ida Haefner suggest a rental program for members. “If you are a senator, you get a polo and at the end of the year, you have the option of returning the polo or buying it at half price,” Stanton said. The plan would allow SGA to cut down on funds lost to those students who are members for a short period of time. But Senator Cierra Edwards presented concerns with the utility of the Stanton-Haefner proposal. “How would we— except for an honors system— make someone return the shirt, if they quit at semester?” Edwards asked. “Also, every two years or so, the polos are redesigned; keeping old polos doesn’t make much sense.” Rather than having a rental system, Edwards suggested having SGA members pay for their own shirts; a proposal that Haefner agreed made sense. “Yes, you guys have come into SGA as volunteers; but you also volunteer in other organizations where you pay fees,” Haefner pointed out. “ I wouldn’t have a problem with paying the $30 for my polo.” However, this secondary proposal was met with opposition from senators as well as Vice President for Student Affairs Shana Meyer. Meyer’s main concern was with the limiting effect that a fee for participation could create. “I think any time you put qualifications onto a positions— like things that costs students money— you set up little roadblocks and barriers,” Meyer said, after the meeting. “I would probably be opposed to doing anything that would be an upfront fee to students.” In fact, Meyer opposed any change to the current system, suggesting that the polos have to be thought of as an investment; not a loss. “At most, we’re losing about $250 a year from students leaving SGA,” Meyer said. “I think we’ve forgotten that we’re spending that $2,000 a year on marketing and branding. They’re a good way for other students to know who their representatives are.”

The WAC-SGA Breakup: “It was mutual”

The Student Government Association presented legislations Monday that call for the separation of the Western Activities Council from SGA. Student administrators suggest that the changes are meant to distinguish the goals and guidelines of the two institutions. “Basically, the reason this is happening is that we decided that WAC and SGA, at their core, serve two very different missions,” SGA Executive Vice President Brad Stanton said during Monday’s meeting. “WAC is to provide activities to the university, whereas student government is to provide governance, to provide funding [to students] and to provide funding for the university.” The mission of the two groups isn’t the only area they differ. Stanton points out that they also differ in operating structure. “SGA is very formal, SGA is very ‘here’s our structure,’ whereas WAC is… structured more towards getting activities done,” Stanton said. Though SGA is the agency removing WAC from SGA, senate and executive members make a point to say that the change is a cooperative decision between the two. “We’ve been meeting and, at retreat, there was the talk that Western Activities Council would be separating from Student Government Association,” Ida Haefner, SGA president, said. “This past week, we’ve come to the decision that this will happen.” The legislations FY16-19 and FY16-20 both act to split WAC from SGA. FY16-19 removes WAC from SGA bylaws, the set of guidelines by which SGA operates. FY16-20, though, removes WAC from the SGA constitution. Though SGA holds the right to adjust their bylaws, a vote of the students is required to reflect the change in the SGA constitution. The vote to amend the SGA constitution will be taken as students vote for homecoming candidates, Oct. 14-15. This separation is not unique to Western. Jessica Frogge, SGA administrative assistant, suggests that Western is actually behind on the times as compared to other universities. “All of the universities I’ve talked to unanimously have their activities association separate from their student government,” Frogge said. Though the policy change is big news for the student administration, SGA representatives suggest that the average student won’t experience anything different. “To the student, they’re probably not going to notice a lot of difference,” Frogge said. “To SGA, it’s one less thing that technically, probably shouldn’t fall under them anyway.” The first reading of legislation is meant to settle any confusion and answer any questions regarding new policies. However, the two legislations were read at Monday’s meeting without a single inquiry into them. It wasn’t until Student Governor Lionel Attawia asked that the bills be explained further for anyone in the gallery who may have misunderstood that someone engaged the legislations. Senators did, however, have a rather heated discussion regarding changing the SGA seal to reflect the new potential policy. WAC is currently embedded into the SGA seal. If the legislations pass, a new seal for SGA will be drafted. Though the SGA Executive Board is confident that the policy changes will pass, the bills must still be voted on before any changes take place. Until the bills are voted on, WAC will remain a broad committee of SGA.

SGA Funds Free St. Joseph Transit Rides

The Student Government Association has signed a contract with St. Joseph Transit to provide students, faculty and staff of Western with free public bus rides. Anyone with a valid Western I.D. will be allowed unlimited rides to and from any of the bus stops Transit already routes. Shana Meyer, director of student affairs, explains that though the program has just begun, the system is already receiving a great deal of use. “The program has already been initiated and in fact, a number of the Western housekeeping staff have already begun using the services,” Meyer said. Though the program is new to SGA and Western, the concept was never directly voted on by senators. Instead, program funding was written into the annual budget by SGA Executive President Ida Haefner. "Being the SGA President gives Ida a lot of power when it comes to drafting a budget," Stanton said. "But, senators do still have to approve said budget." Which is exactly what happened at Monday's SGA meeting. The SGA 2015-16 Budget passed by a 15-0 vote with no questions from senators. As per the contract, riders can use the services for free for the 2015-16 school year. If the program is used at least 9,500 times, then SGA will enter into an $11,800 contract to continue the program for the 2016-17 school year. “If we don’t meet that [number of riders], the $11,800 will go back into rollover for that next year,” Haefner said. If the program is not used at least 9,500 times in the coming year, then Transit will not extend the program another year. The $11,800 figure was determined on the basis of $1 per student, per semester. The standard cost of unlimited rides through Transit is $40 per month per rider. As SGA Executive Vice President Brad Stanton notes, no matter what happens with the program, it will be have a positive impact. “It’s actually a really good deal for us because we don’t have to do any of the PR, we don’t have to do any of the marketing,” Stanton said. “Everyone who hears we’ve gotten free St. Joseph Transit is like, ‘You got a really good deal.’” Though the service is beneficial to Western, the program has received some criticism, being a student-funded program that staff and faculty can use without a charge. To use the free bus rides, individuals must present their student or employee I.D. For 50 cents, Transit will deviate from its route and pick up or drop off individuals at any location within the downtown St. Joseph area.

‘Without a doubt the best compromise’

Compromise. That was the theme for the Student Success Act Fee Advisory Committee, as their April 6 meeting ended with major improvements to the Looney Complex and Blum Student Union being agreed upon. With the end of the semester looming, the committee needed to come to a consensus before the end of the year. The committee entered the meeting with two proposals on the table. One proposal from Dr. Cale Fessler, vice president for financial planning and administration, called for additional recreational space for students which would fulfill a major requirement of the 10-year master plan that the university is following to improve the campus. “When we first started this, we had a certain set of information; then we had the master planners on campus and they were in every room and they looked at our campus and had all kinds of people with all sorts of expertise looking at everything,” Daffron said. “Their conclusions were a number of things, but one big thing was the need for recreation space for students… I do feel very strongly that its important if you do have a master plan and if you have all that information that comes with a master-plan… we really need to use that to make decisions, because there is no way that any one of us could know all the things we get from a master plan.” The other proposal, which was from SGA Senator Brian Shewell, focused on a continuous plan to use the funding on five areas around campus. During the two-hour committee meeting, committee members heard the proposals from Fessler and Shewell. Committee members peppered both presenters with questions. Fessler provided the committee with more concrete figures as to the potential cost of upgrading the current Looney pool space into either an improved pool or a multi-purpose recreational facility with three basketball courts and an indoor evaluated walking track. The committee also was considering a previous SSA fee purpose, which was originally approved during Jacob Scott’s SGA administration: a remodel of the second floor of the Blum Student Union. The project that was originally approved was to use three years of the $224,000 per year to improve the second floor of Blum. The first year worth of Blum funding was planning to remodel the space to make it more inviting to students. The second year worth of funding was meant for paint and carpet in the same space. The third year was intended for new technology and furniture. After hearing the arguments for each of the three sides and deliberating for over an hour and a half, Daffron proposed a compromise to the group to fund both the student union project and the recreational space project. The following is an email from Daffron to the committee members detailing her proposal. “I move that the $224,000 in the SSA funds from fiscal year (FY) 2014, the $224,000 from FY 2015 and the balance of funds from FY 2015 (approximately $80,000) be split between the Blum remodeling project and the Looney recreation space project to be consistent with the recommendations from the MWSU Master Plan. The FY 2016 funding will be used to complete those two projects with a three-year total cap of $448,000 for the Blum project and FY 2016 allocations of $70,000 for Baker Fitness Center and $60,000 for Esry Student Health Center.” On the strength of a 4-1 vote by the committee, Daffron’s proposal to split the already collected funds for the two projects as well as next year’s totals was quickly passed. Student representative Mary Beth Rosenauer was pleased with how quickly this decision was reached and the speed that the committee reached a consensus once the proposal was floated. “I think the the idea just came to us very quickly near the end (of the meeting),” Rosenauer said. “I think it seemed very obvious what needed to be done and that’s why it happened so quickly." With this funding, Blum will get its remodel, paint and carpet, but the new furniture and technology with have to be put on the back-burner. The Looney project will be able to be completely funded under this plan. The Daffron proposal earned the support of all three administrators with Daffron, Jerry Pickman, vice president of university advancement and executive director of the MWSU Foundation, and Dr. Kathleen O’Connor, dean of professional studies. The proposition was also able to gain student support in the form of Rosenauer. “I think it is without a doubt the best compromise that we could have made with all the things that are pending and need to be updated on campus. Things that administration wants, but also handling that with things that the students want,” Rosenauer said. The one nay-vote came from Brandon Grieshaber. “(Summing up) my problems,” Grieshaber said. “One, it had a narrow scope of what it could potentially been done for. Two, it did not address the future of the SSA act. Three, we run into a consistency problem to where these funds could potentially be used for anything up to the discretion of the committee.” SGA Senator Haden McDonald, the third student representative on the committee was unable to attend the meeting because of a class conflict. “In future years, I really think we should have a better plan for how we establish our meetings and how we go about a timeline for establishing the SSA,” McDonald said. The SGA was able to hear the first reading of the agreement on the same night that the committee reached their agreement. On April 13, they unanimously passed the resolution. Now, the primary hurdles remaining for the resolution are a trio of signatures. SGA President Daniel Hager, Vice President for Student Affairs Shana Meyer and Western President Dr. Robert Vartabedian all have veto power on the bill. “I was really pleased with how the committee came together to make this compromise, both with students and administration,” Hager said. “They were very professional and clearly from the beginning were looking to cooperate with each other… In my opinion, this is the best decision for the university and students as a whole.” Meyer was also pleased with the progress of this bill. “I think the proposal that was made had the best elements of everything that was on the table,” Meyer said. Hager and Meyer are both expected to approve the agreement and it should land on Vartabedian’s desk in the very near future.