The Skydiving Bill debated this week in UHR is the latest in several bills illustrating the weaknesses in the organization’s ability to efficiently allocate the Student Activity Fee (SAF). Representatives were without guidance in debate, did not give the bill the time and attention it deserved and failed to find an adequate advocate for the organization. Such conduct is not unique to this bill. Indeed, the UHR acts in this manner whenever it discusses a large bill. This is not an effective way to spend the $5 million that comes from the SAF each year nor is this representative of the student body’s wishes.
Representatives were unable to adequately frame the debate over each of the cuts. Each representative only had his or her biases to look to for guidance. The fact that UHR has no mission and no guiding principles to shape its allocation of the SAF causes this confusion. No one, no leader or collective voice, has charged the representatives with any duty outside of the vague instruction to “serve their constituents.”
Also, representatives could not effectively decide on which items were and were not necessary for the functioning of the club. I spoke with all three officers of Skydiving Club at the meeting, and each told me of the complexity of the group. This rings true for all organizations—no one knows what is necessary better for the group than the members. The most distressing problem with the discussion of this particular bill, and others like it, was summed up by John Nahabedian, Skydiving Club’s Treasurer, “I felt completely unheard.”
The fact that Skydiving Club felt that it had no advocate is unacceptable from a body which purports to represent the will of the students. This bill had a sponsor, someone who threw his weight behind the action and pledged to advocate for the club by signing the bill. Yet he had no incentive to actually spend the time necessary to fight for what was in the best interest of the club. In fact, no representative has any real incentive beyond his or her own convictions to fight for a bill.
UHR, as well as the GSS, must rectify these problems by creating incentives and guidelines that encourage SGA members to allocate funds in a way that reflects the wishes of the student body.
First, both bodies should pass resolutions clearly laying out the principles that will inform their decisions on which organizations to fund. While Joint Finance Committee policy lays out rules for what SGA is allowed to fund, this resolution would say what SGA should fund. Such a resolution could be passed as each new House and Senate is elected, allowing for the criteria to change with the opinions of the representatives and senators.
Second, UHR and GSS should cease meeting as a plenary body each week. Instead, they should designate committees of legislators to scrutinize large bills and meet with organizational representatives to discuss concerns and ways to effectively implement cuts. Only after bills are discussed in this way should the bodies meet as a whole. Such a system would foster actual conversations between small groups of legislators and the organizational representatives. The extra time and focus such committees would create would allow for the least important parts of bills to be cut and the most important parts to remain.
Finally, and perhaps most controversially, the constituencies of representatives and senators should be reexamined. Defining legislators by their major or class does not mean anything. The computer science majors do not have a substantially different opinion of whether to fund Skydiving Club than do mechanical engineers by virtue of their major. Similarly, freshmen and seniors do not have differing interests in funding the club.
There is no easy solution, but SGA should conduct a thorough examination of the best way to represent the differing interests in the student body over the allocation of the SAF. Only by endeavoring to create a system that truly represents and advocates for students can SGA truthfully claim to represent its constituents.