USG senators, students criticize USG over funding guidelines and exclusive practices
The Undergraduate Student Government on Tuesday was rebuked by constituents, former members, student leaders and its own members for what some critics called arbitrary funding guidelines and discriminatory practices.
The organization held its first meeting of the Spring 2017 semester in the Student Center ballrooms, a new venue USG President Jared Stern said was chosen so senators could face one another in the hopes of increasing the level of respect among members.
At issue was a motion sponsored by Senator Kane Hudson to amend the governing board’s constitution clause that sets a minimum 2.5 GPA standard for senate members. The proposed amendment would lower those academic requirements to a 2.3 GPA.
Senator Kevin Lindsay led a strong retort that adamantly challenged the proposed amendment, saying the change would harm USG’s reputation.
The amendment is the second of its kind to be brought before the senate within the academic year. In November, its members approved an amendment to reduce academic requirements to the current level from a 2.7 GPA and waive all requirements for students who have a documented disability.
Hudson argued that some in the senate considered themselves “elite” and compared them to “gods on mountains.” He said his proposal would be more inclusive and better reflect USG’s constituents.
“There are some senators who are afraid that we’ll ruin our reputation,” Hudson said. “Once again, I don’t know what reputation there is to ruin anymore.”
Other proponents of the proposed amendment alleged the academic requirements discriminate against students based on learning disability, socioeconomic status and race.
“The fact that the majority of black and brown students that I know have to work more than 20 hours a week in order to make sure they get their education affects their GPA,” Yahaira Heller, a recent SIU graduate and former senate member, said later during the public comments portion of the meeting.
The remark prompted a standing ovation from most in the senate, excluding the executive board.
Nick Shereos, a member of Model U.N., addressed Stern directly during public comments, saying he planned to file a grievance with the organization for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Shereos said a disability precluded him from consideration on the senate and went on to say those policies kept disabled students from having a voice in USG.
Other points of contention during the meeting were raised after Inter-Greek Council asked USG to fulfill a $6,400 event funding request.
Senator Damaris Gonzalez said the amount exceeded limitations outlined in USG’s funding guidelines and asked the amount be reduced to $5,000 to be in compliance.
Stern, attempting to clarify the guidelines, said the umbrella organization was eligible for a larger amount of event funding because it received no operational funds to begin the year.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving money to an organization after the fact,” he said of the guidelines. “It says by doing that, they accept some risk not being allocated the full amount they spent.”
That point was contested by other senators, and a suggestion was made to give organizations that were denied some funding under previous rules be allowed to re-apply. Stern said such action would require the senate to revisit every funding bill it passed during the academic year.
The 30-minute discussion that followed led to the bill being tabled for future discussion. Also criticized was the length of USG meetings, which have often extended longer than three hours apiece this academic year and frequently end before all agenda items are discussed.
Later, Vice President of Graduate School Affairs Johnathan Flowers, who represents the Graduate and Professional Student Council, addressed the student government body during public comments. Senators at the beginning of the meeting voted not to change the agenda to allow Flowers to deliver a special report.
Flowers, who was not present during USG’s regular business, told members of the senate he sought to give USG an opportunity to join a resolution that passed in a meeting of the GPSC regarding student absences. That opportunity, he said, expired when the senate decided not to hear him out.
“I extended an olive branch. You rejected it. I am no longer compelled to extend any further olive branches,” Flowers said
Flowers added that he no longer felt collaboration between the two organizations could be beneficial given the conduct of the senate and “particularly the behavior of [its] president.”