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Press Clipping: University of Georgia SGA continues search for best mode of representing students

University of Georgia SGA continues search for best mode of representing students

By Mollie Simon

The Student Government Association will soon make decisions regarding the future of student representation at the University of Georgia.

SGA is in the process of reviewing its constitution and is considering changes to the student life seats, which were established in 2010.

“We will have a solution [to the student life seats] this semester. Students can expect to see a proposed reform in which all student life seats would be elected,” said Jim Thompson, SGA vice president.

Thompson is leading the task force examining the issue and said the proposal will go through the Constitutional Committee and then be presented to the Senate for a vote, likely during the spring election season when Thompson said more eyes are on SGA.

SGA’s constitution establishes 15 student life seats with sections reserved for religious, athletic and recreation, Greek life, and service organizations on campus.

The issue with the seats as they stand, Thompson said is that some are unusually restrictive, such as the three total Greek seats serving four Greek councils, and some are too broad such as the “South Campus” seat, which Thompson said they struggle to define.

Additionally, the seats are not directly elected and students instead apply for them at the beginning of a school year.

“The current 15 seats are good, and they can represent student identities on campus and the challenges those face. The first time you try it though, it is hard to know what will happen. There is no comparable model in our peer institution student governments,” Thompson said.

While there may not be a precise example elsewhere to follow for student life seats, there is no shortage of ways schools structure their student governments.

At the Georgia Institute of Technology, the student government includes representatives from different colleges, in addition to students who represent each class, said Georgia Tech’s Student Government Association President Dillon Roseen.

“The benefits of having freshman representatives is they run on campaigns proposing things like changes to dining hall hours. It is good to have that younger perspective in the house,” Roseen said.

The University of Florida’s representation encompasses student representatives based on campus housing, and the University of Missouri Student Association includes 20 “at-large” senators.

Regardless of the university though, finding a system that works can be a matter of trial and error.

“In the past we had a representative for each major, and we had to appoint a lot of positions regularly. So, we actually changed our by-laws to representatives for each college. That lowered the number of representatives, which has done a lot to make sure we have a full house,” Roseen said.

Butch Oxendine, the executive director of the American Student Government Association, travels to different colleges as a consultant to their student representative bodies.

He said a strong indicator of whether a model is working is voter turnout for elections.

“The national average for public university voter turnout is 10 to 15 percent, which can mean a student government has bigger issues than just representation in terms of the level of respect they get and the level of trust on campus,” he said.

Last spring, just more than one-sixth of UGA students, 2,299 in all, voted in the SGA elections, according to a previous Red & Black article.

“I think in a perfect system having representatives for each college would work because it is modeled off of what we see in our state and federal governments, but SGA is still battling with this facade of exclusivity,” Thompson said.

Oxendine said contested races are another way to tell that a system is working, but that appointed seats, such as the student life seats at UGA, can give voices to those who may not be able to win during a general election.

Despite this, there may be reasons for change at UGA.

Having student life representatives who must run for their seats could add a greater level of legitimacy to those positions and remove any awkward tiers within Senate, Thompson said.