Daily Egyptian

Opinion: How USG presidential candidates addressed issues of USG recruitment, communication, and senator accountability at sociology club presidential debate

By Johnathan Flowers, PH.D Candidate, Department of Philosophy, GPSC president

Candidate Newlin

Candidate Newlin once again referenced the responsibility of the USG Executive to fill senate seats that are unfilled through selecting senators. However, this is a half-truth at best; a misinterpretation of the constitution at worst. The USG Executive does not “select” senators to fill empty seats: in the absence of a senator from a district, organization, college, or department, the senate may vote to confirm a senator to represent a given college, organization, district, or department who has completed the senate packet as if they were the representative from the above. To be clear, it is the responsibility of the senate to confirm these individuals, not the president or the executive.

Additionally, Candidate Newlin seeks to generate “empirical evidence” that Senators are doing their jobs through performance reviews of senators to establish a system of checks and balances for the senators to hold them accountable. This would involve monthly meetings with the Executive Board in addition to the constituency reports that they already have to submit. While I agree that this could be a productive mechanism to hold senators accountable, I struggle to understand how Candidate Newlin, or his executive, will manage the administrative burden of meeting with over fifty senators in addition to their responsibilities as executives.

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Moreover, to require these monthly meetings of senators Candidate Newlin would need to amend the constitution to incorporate these monthly meetings into the senator responsibilities. Given the difficulty of getting USG senators to participate on university wide and internal committees, in addition to the responsibilities of USG senators as students and members of their respective organizations, the additional burden of a monthly meeting with the Executive as well as hosting the events that Candidate Newlin requires of his senators, may place an untenable burden upon undergraduates who are already overworked themselves.

Candidate Newlin based his model of recruitment on the model used by Greek life. This is not necessarily a bad idea, specifically as he argued for earlier recruitment, however, Candidate Newlin fails to recognize that senate participation, as per the constitution, is dependent upon institutional alignment: a student at orientation, at Dawg Days, who has just reached campus, may not have an institutional alignment and thus would not be eligible for recruitment. While I agree with the provision of information early on in a student’s career, I doubt that this would enable USG to fill its seats.

Finally, Candidate Newlin pointed out that the use of the social media platforms, the USG website, and other such mechanisms are only valuable if students know about them. To this end, Candidate Newlin suggested delegating the responsibility for bringing in new students to the sitting senators, a point which I agree with; however, if the senate itself is not full, delegating this responsibility to senators is a non-issue. Moreover, the additional responsibilities that Candidate Newlin seeks to saddle his senators with may serve as an extreme deterrent to this participations.

Candidate Henderson

Candidate Henderson, drawing on suggestions made by Candidate Mitchell, indicated a desire to reactivate and empower the External Affairs Committee, the public relations arm of USG, to engage in recruitment activities. Henderson also emphasized the use of social media platforms, the USG website, departmental list-servs, and sharepoint to ensure students are informed on USG events and activities. Henderson also indicated his desire to distribute the minutes of USG meetings to all members of USG to ensure that they are kept up to date on USG activities.

Candidate Henderson also indicated his meetings with Jennifer Jones Hall, Dean of Students, wherein he suggested, like Candidate Newlin, the incorporation of information about USG in the New Student Orientation materials. Beyond this, Candidate Henderson touted his ability to recruit “goal oriented people” via his Vice President for Student Affairs and his experience with NABA. However, Candidate Henderson, unlike Candidates Mitchell and Newlin, did not provide mechanisms whereby he could increase participation in USG except through his executive committee and sending out USG minutes through the university communications platforms.

However, where accountability is concerned, Candidate Henderson indicated the need to establish an ad-hoc committee which would be charged with reviewing senators’ constituency reports as a mode of accountability, recruiting senators, and retaining senators. That is, Candidate Henderson would, essentially, develop an ad-hoc committee whose responsibilities would duplicate some of the responsibilities of the External Affairs Committee (EAC) and the Internal Affairs Committee (IAC), while drawing upon some of Candidate Newlin’s ideas for senator accountability. Here, again, Candidate Henderson runs into some of the problems of Candidate Newlin’s suggestion, with a few new ones.

As stated previously, USG already has difficulty staffing its current standing committees: the development of a new ad-hoc committee, one which would be temporary by definition, and staffing it with students who are willing to meet and review the activities of over fifty senators, seems to be a far-fetched prospect. That is, given the previously mentioned complexities of undergraduate student life, tasking a temporary committee to review, recruit, and retain other senators seems like a difficult prospect, particularly when these tasks could be better suited to a redesigned EAC or IAC.

Finally, while Candidate Henderson did agree with the necessity of providing senator accountability meetings, again through his potential ad-hoc committee, Candidate Henderson did not offer any constructive mechanisms to hold senators accountable. Moreover, assigning this task to the ad-hoc committee, which would include the responsibility to review constituency reports, a role already designated to the USG Chief of Staff, places an additional burden upon the potential ad-hoc committee. To my understanding, this committee would be the busiest committee on USG, with exception to the funding committee, without the authority of a standing committee.

Candidate Mitchell

Candidate Mitchell, like Candidates Henderson and Newlin, emphasized the need to use the USG website, social media, and other outlets. However, unlike Candidates Henderson and Newlin, Candidate Mitchell emphasized the need to use these mechanisms as a mode of interaction with USG constituents. Drawing on models from other student governments, Candidate Mitchell suggested that EAC be provided with a clear mission in the constitution which would include outreach and recruitment, including Town Hall meetings that would invite faculty and administration to communicate information, as well as communicating with USG constituents through its social media. This communication point distinguishes Candidate Mitchell’s response from his fellow Candidates, however it is not without issues.

Unlike Candidates Newlin and Henderson, Candidate Mitchell did not address the awareness issue with regards to USG’s social media presence. While Candidate Mitchell did acknowledge that undergraduate students needed to know who USG was and what it does, Candidate Mitchell did not address how he would overcome the current ignorance of USG among undergraduate students, except through appealing to his Chief of Staff, Mikala Barrett, and the use of social media. While I would grant that these are good points, Candidate Mitchell’s failure to address the current situation where understanding of USG is concerned gives me cause to question the efficacy of the communication mechanisms. Its fine to say that “students need to know who USG is and what (it does),” but without a practical means to do so, these are just empty words.

Whereas Candidates Newlin and Henderson indicated the need to provide additional work for the executive, or the development of new committees for senator accountability, Candidate Mitchell implied that he would delegate this responsibility to IAC, a committee that he currently chairs. To that end, Candidate Mitchell presented the need for cultivating senators to meet the standards set by the President, as opposed to simply impeaching them. Specifically, “when senators mess up, you need to cultivate them, develop them,” rather than simply impeaching them. In the language of the university, this is called “progressive discipline.”

While this is a less time intensive strategy than either Candidates Newlin of Henderson presented, as it seems to rely upon the existing structures in USG, and it serves to develop senators into individuals who can fulfill their responsibilities rather than hunting down students that have the qualifications from the start, Candidate Mitchell did not define the expectations that he would hold his senators to, nor did he explicitly state how he would implement this progressive discipline. As the USG constitution has no provision for implementing this strategy, Candidate Mitchell would need to rewrite the requirements for the IAC or provide them with an initial charge upon taking office.

Thus, while Candidate Mitchell offers innovative solutions to USG’s recruitment and accountability problems, Candidate Mitchell needs to provide practical strategies for implementation if these solutions are to be taken seriously. To this end, Candidate Mitchell’s suggestions have the opposite problem from Candidate Newlin and Candidate Henderson: rather than increasing the work that USG has to do, the lack of definition means that it is quite possible that Candidate Mitchell’s progressive discipline and cultivation strategy will fall apart the moment it hits the senate as, without guidance, I do not see how senators will be able to hold one another accountable.

Johnathan Flowers. PH.D Candidate, Department of Philosophy, and president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council can be reached at [email protected] 

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