SGA should focus on external advocacy

Last year brought sweeping changes to the status quo on Tech’s campus. We saw deep cuts to HOPE, increases in tuition, even larger increases to the “Tuition Fee” and epidemic levels of construction. In each of those issues we looked to student government to provide leadership and advocacy.

Sometimes they filled this critical role. Former Graduate President Anthony Baldridge and his cabinet led the way in securing a new health insurance deal for graduate students, which is expected to be better customized to Tech’s unique needs. Indeed, Baldridge developed a strong record for focused advocacy on issues that directly affected the graduate population.

Other times, SGA failed to step up. Most visibly—or invisibly, as it happened—former Undergraduate President Corey Boone and his cabinet failed to call the Board of Regents out for increasing tuition through the use of the Special Institutional Fee—i.e. the Tuition Fee—an increase which caused students formerly on the HOPE scholarship to pay 67 percent more than the year before. Instead, he focused on developing “relationships” with lawmakers, the benefit of which students have yet to see.

Now it is time for the new administrations of Undergraduate President Elle Creel and Graduate President James Black to take up the mantle of leadership and passionately serve their constituencies: the undergraduate and graduate student bodies.

First and foremost, both groups must engage with groups outside the Institute that affect us every day, including the Board of Regents, the state house and our representation in the U.S. Congress. HOPE’s award level will be reset in the spring, tuition will go up and Tech will almost inevitably have to deal with budget cuts. SGA must thrust itself into these and similar conversations and passionately advocate for the student body.

That means developing lobbying strategies, partnering with other student governments across the state and not being afraid to show some emotion every once in a while. Students standing meekly by as lawmakers discuss our future will not do anything to improve students’ position.

Specifically, SGA should work to put the Tuition Fee where it belongs—in tuition. They should partner with the Institute to work to get more federal and state funding, and they should work to get student representation on the Board of Regents. This last initiative in particular would do more to advance students’ interest than any other.

Internally, SGA should continue to work with the Institute to improve the student experience on campus. As the Technique editorial board indicated last week, this means playing small ball—identifying concrete, manageable issues with courses or curricula and then working with administration to enact changes. We don’t need more white papers or agreements with the Faculty Senate. We need real, enforceable policy changes that will affect the day-to-day lives of students.

Students look to SGA for more than advocacy, however. They expect SGA to provide certain services and funds, which only an umbrella organization like SGA can provide. SGA should strive to deliver these resources efficiently and professionally.

From a service standpoint, both the undergraduates and graduates do well. The new Jacketpages system is live and much improved from last year. The graduates in particular run several services, like the Graduate Conference Fund, specifically designed to help their constituencies. The undergraduates should look for similar, focused services to provide.

Both the undergraduates and the graduates allocate the Student Activity Fee rather well, too. This year they have the added challenge of an especially large pot of money from which to draw. Both the Prior Year account (for expenses like travel and registration) and the Capital Outlay Account (for large expenditures on equipment) are larger than they have been in some time. SGA should make sure that student organizations know that the money is there and are comfortable asking for it.

SGA will face many challenges over the coming year.  Both the graduate and undergraduate cabinets have a good mix of experienced hands and new faces. As long as each member of the organization does his or her work with the welfare of the student body in mind, the student body will be in good hands.

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