Student government constitutional faults test student trust

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Student government lacks communication and transparency, raising problems within the student body

By Emily Rosman

ST. BONAVENTURE (May 3, 2016) – The Student Government Association’s budget report projects about a $90,000 decrease for the 2016-2017 academic year. Armed with a constitution that has failed twice in the last six months alone and declining student support, student government at St. Bonaventure has a lot of upcoming responsibility.

Student government, also referred to as SGA, works as a liaison between the student body, university, faculty and administration.

SGA faces problems with leadership, finances, its advisor’s role and a faulty constitution. This has resulted in an increased lack of trust based on conversations with multiple students.

SGA’s recent election for president and vice president of the executive board proved to be invalid because of a flaw in the SGA constitution, requiring a runoff election. An explanation of the controversy can be found here.

A decline in voter turnout in the runoff election contributed to the controversy. Only 23 percent of undergraduates voted in the runoff election compared with the 47 percent of undergraduates that voted in the first election.

Richard Trietley, SGA’s advisor, cited several reasons for this decline, including apathy from students after hearing about SGA too many times.

Prior to the elections, people discovered that any amendments approved since 2011 were invalid. A clause in the constitution says that any amendment must go through a vote by the student body, and for the last five years, that did not happen, said James Cook, one of the losing presidential candidates.

Trietley, the university’s vice president of Student Affairs, said low voter turnout could have also resulted from the rainy weather or the fact that Noah Burton, a third presidential candidate, dropped out of the runoff election.

Anneliese Quinlan, the winning presidential candidate, said the location Trietley chose had an effect on voter turnout.

“I felt that Plassmann would’ve been better. I was concerned about off-campus students specifically. Most students walk through it and it’s closer to all the other academic buildings,” said Quinlan.

Plassmann Hall, a classroom building, sits between the other four academic buildings on campus.

Despite Quinlan’s claims, Trietley said he doesn’t believe the location had much to do with a decreased voter turnout.

Some candidates differed with Trietley’s decision to use paper ballots.

“We had put the technology department here through a lot of work in setting up the original election on my.sbu,” Trietley said. “I didn’t think it was fair for them to drop everything they were doing to set up an election online.”

Professors and administrators typically use my.sbu, a homepage that contains each student’s personal schedule and email account, to post important information, like the election.

The candidates and Trietley decided to have the runoff election a week after the initial results became invalidated.

Timothy Geiger, director of enterprise services, said setting up an online poll takes about a week to complete.

But no matter the location or the voting method, this year especially was an important year to vote.

The new SGA members will distribute funds to club and organizations. But 2016-2017 will be different.

Cook, former SGA treasurer, said the Campus Activities Board, accountable for the planning and production of extracurricular programming for all students, might not even have a large enough budget for Spring Weekend in 2017.

SGA must distribute a projected $28,020 to more than 50 active clubs and organizations on campus in the 2016-2017 academic year.

SGA must distribute a projected $28,020 during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Robert DeFazio, SGA’s budget officer, said he tries to judge how much money each club receives by looking at how much each club spent in previous years. The budget comes from the remaining student activities fee, a $965 fee added to students’ bills, after deductions for expenses like the Center for student Wellness.

DeFazio, director of the Center for Activities, Recreation and Leadership, then meets with SGA’s executive board members and explains how he came up with each club’s budget.

“I don’t ever send off the budget without the executive board’s final approval,” said DeFazio.

But SGA has never appropriately reviewed each club or organization’s performance and spending to accurately distribute funds, said Cook.

“SGA could go through every single budget and decide, based on the parameters of the constitution, how much money everybody’s getting,” said Cook. “However, what usually happens and what’s happened in the past is that Rob just give us an amount that each club gets and he would ask, ‘Does this look good?’ and nobody wants to take the time to go through all of them so they say, ‘Yeah, it looks fine’ and then move ahead.”

Rose Brown, former SGA president, declined to comment and directed all questions toward the new executive board.

Members of  “The Big 5,” including the college radio station, a student newspaper, intramural sports, an on-campus medical response team and the Campus Activities Board, receive the most money from the budget based on high student involvement.

“I would really love to do a survey here on campus to see how many people are part of the Big 5,” said Cook. “Taking a look at those numbers to see how many students are involved … That’s where all the money from the budget goes.”

Getting the most money from the budget doesn’t come without stipulations. According to Article XI, Section 2.4 of the constitution, “In the event that a Big 5 senator does not attend all of the SGA meetings, their club will have their budget frozen and 5 percent of their budget will be deducted per meeting the senator misses.”

The Bona Venture, a weekly student newspaper and part of The Big 5, failed to send a representative of The BV to five meetings between September 17, 2015, and December 3, 2015. This would result in a $2,000 deduction had the constitution been followed.

The Bona Venture failed to send a representative to five meetings during the Fall semester.

“The BV was notified and they started coming to meetings,” said Cook. “Therefore, we saw no need to freeze their budget.”

Unless this semester’s newly appointed budget committee decides to sit down and review the budget sheet, basing budgets on participation and spending records, larger clubs could continue to get larger amounts of money they may not deserve.

Some students said that SGA has some work to do to gain trust back after this year’s events.

“My trust in SGA had already been rocky,” said David Bryant, former junior class president. “I think the reelection reaffirmed that SGA needs some work, needs fresh ideas and needs more perspectives of leadership.”

Dan Leopold, a junior history and journalism and mass communication major, agreed SGA has some work to do.

“I think SGA should have been more aware of their constitution,” said Leopold. In terms of having a second election, “it almost makes the whole process illegitimate.”

But Bob Van Wicklin, a former chief of staff to two congressmen, said trust for SGA has a lot to do with transparency.

“It’s up to the candidate to get their message out, but it’s up to us to be receptive,” said Van Wicklin, the university’s vice president of advancement. “Both sides could help with the transparency issue by making everything they do available for everyone.”

There was, however, one improvement everyone interviewed could agree on – increased communication between SGA and the student body.

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