(Image via umassdsga.org)
Volunteer Writer: Connor Sullivan
As a follow-up to last month’s “Shake the Ship,” the Student Government Association once again invited students to the Claire T. Carney Library last Thursday, November 16th, for the Leadership Forum.
While Shake the Ship was focused on questioning administration, the Leadership Forum allowed students to bring their comments and concerns about the SGA’s operations directly to their executive board.
This executive board included President Marshall MacDonald, Vice President Gent Haviari, Treasurer Nicole Kach, Recording Secretary Jackie O’Hare, and Corresponding Secretary Doreen Darko.
The event got off to a rough start when the library’s dean, Nancy M. Godleski, relocated it from the library’s living room to the grand reading room a few days prior.
According to Vice President Haviari, Godleski didn’t want the event to interrupt students’ regular use of the space. Haviari sympathized with this idea: “Students do use the space to study,” but he still said, “It’s not something we were hoping for.”
“We’re going to start discussions again to see if we can get back there,” said Haviari. He stated that the SGA wants to host these events in the living room as “it’s a more public space.”
Like Shake the Ship, the event consisted of Corresponding Secretary Darko posing questions on behalf of the student body to the other members of the executive board. Afterward, students were invited to take a microphone and ask questions.
Much of the event was dedicated to budgeting concerns, as the SGA had decided to cut student organization funding this semester.
As Treasurer Kach explains, the SGA participates in a yearly budget hearing through the Student Fee Allocation Committee (SFAC). Students pay a “Student Activity Fee” as part of their bill each semester, which funds student events and organizations on campus. This hearing helps the SGA determine how much funding they will receive from this fee.
This year, the SGA was allocated less than it had anticipated from its hearing, which meant it could not meet the budget it had planned last semester. The most prominent result of this was a 23% cut to the budgets of all student organizations.
Haviari stressed that “these cuts happened because they needed to happen,” arguing that if the SGA budgeted as it had previously planned, then the lack of funds would become an even greater issue in the spring.
“We’re going to make sure that this won’t happen again,” said President MacDonald, “Our overall goal is that the agreed upon amount in the budget hearing is what’s allocated.”
The SGA plans to avoid situations like this by better communicating that budgets are subject to change so that future budget changes will be less abrupt.
“Many people take the number that we say or the fines committee recommends at the hearing as the total or the set number. However, this is not true; this is only a recommendation,” said Kach, adding that “it is not final until the senate votes to approve the combined budget resolution.”
As part of this push for transparency, the SGA highlighted several new features on its website. These include sections for each member of the SGA, records of all resolutions, recordings of public events like the Leadership Forum, and detailed minutes of each general-body meeting.
MacDonald posed another potential solution.
“In terms of SGA preventing this again in the future, the best way, obviously, would be raising the Student Activities Fee,” said MacDonald. Haviari echoed this sentiment, claiming that the fee has not kept pace with the growth in funded organizations.
“With a raise of the Student Activities Fee, we would see exponential growth in the amount of funding that we would have available for orgs, that would be able to match the growth that they’ve had,” said Haviari.
While the Senate can raise this fee whenever they want, Haviari claims that “we’ve made the decision to not raise the fee until we’ve received a majority vote from the student body.”
Haviari states that they will hold this “census-type vote” after the SGA has had a chance to educate students about this situation in the spring semester.
Should the SGA receive more funding, MacDonald claims they will do their best to match the budget for student organizations to what they were promised in their hearings.
Aside from budget concerns, two lingering issues from Shake the Ship, safety and infrastructure, were also addressed.
Regarding safety, Recording Secretary O’Hare announced a new safety panel during the SGA’s public general body meeting, which is hosted every Monday at 6 PM in room 206 of the library.
Additionally, O’Hare explained that the SGA has begun looking into reestablishing their Police Oversight committee, “where we will be working with the police department and administration to make sure that students feel more safe.”
Haviari also highlighted the SGA’s “new election procedure,” which features greater scrutiny of candidate behavior. He claimed these checks will reveal whether potential senators are “not up to par with the conduct that we are looking for in SGA.”
Regarding infrastructure, student Daniel Flores asked what students could do to learn about and influence the large-scale renovations planned for LARTs next summer.
Haviair answered that the SGA’s infrastructure chair, Anala Smith, would represent the SGA in these meetings to ensure that “all the students’ concerns are represented in that committee.” Additionally, he shared his idea for an open forum event similar to the Leadership Forum, where students could ask the planning committee questions directly.
Flores later stated that he was satisfied with this answer and believed the SGA “answered it to the best of their ability,”
“As Vice President Haivari said, there’s a lot of red tape that sometimes I can’t know about,” said Flores, “but I trust my student senators to get the information they can access to me.”