An issue brought before student representatives at Northern Kentucky University spawned intense debate, raised voices, back-and-forth conversations and compromises as the group tried to find consensus on the controversial topic. The issue? Reforming the organization’s constitution. The representatives were put into workgroups to hash out these reforms.
The largest points of contention were whether or not to eliminate one of the organization’s paid executive board positions, and whether to expand or eliminate the organization’s current committees, the chairs of which are also paid.
Currently, the organization is headed by a five-person executive board consisting of the president, executive vice president, secretary for public relations, secretary for administrative affairs, and secretary for student involvement.
Some members of the current executive board, including SGA President Kevin Golden and Vice President Danielle Hawks, argue that the position of secretary of administrative affairs contributes little to directly impacting students and that those roles could be combined into another organizational position, such as the secretary for public relations or the legislative liaison.
The legislative liaison, a senate position that is not part of the executive board, is paid the same amount as the SGA president. The main role of the legislative liaison is to assist senators in developing, drafting and editing legislation. To date, SGA has only passed two resolutions, making some student senators wonder if the legislative liaison needs more work to do for the amount of paid hours he is required to work.
However, some student representatives opposed the idea of eliminating an executive board position, expressing concern that the elimination would create a even-numbered board, giving the president too much power in the event of a tie-breaking vote among the executive board. Others said that when in an era where NKU is seeing substantial growth, it is time to talk about expanding and not decreasing the number of people working for the students.
Currently, the organization only has three committees designed to meet all the needs of the more than 15,000 students at the university: the Finance Committee, the Student Rights Committee and the University Improvements Committee.
Finance currently manages the organization’s budget but is also given the task with addressing issue of student concern relating to the university’s budget, such as the recent holiday pay bonuses to faculty and staff and the amount of fees levied against students. The Student Rights Committee is designed to deal with issues involving the Student Code of Conduct and legal and procedural rights of students that are being ignored or addressed improperly. The University Improvements Committee tends to deal with issues relating to campus buildings and facilities, and their work has included passing a resolution regarding the Campus Recreation Center improvements this semester.
One proposal is to empower the executive board to delineate the number and types of committees it has each semester every year in the organization’s bylaws, focusing each of the committees on one specific issue of student concern. For example, this semester that could have meant creating a committee for each of the organization’s stated goals, which would have been a total of six committees.
Under that proposal, according to the goals posted on the SGA website, the committees this semester would have been: (1) Community Perks, (2) Student Employment, (3) Campus Recreation Center, (4) SGA Visibility, (5) Civic Engagement and (6) Go Green Initiative. Proponents say having smaller committees addressing specific issues would create better efficiency and subject the committee leaders to being publicly answerable for the work they have accomplished when they have to provide a weekly report to the SGA.
If there are smaller topic-specific committees, the organization could eliminate paid chairperson roles and save the organization $1,800 annually in stipends, which could be used by the organization for other priorities, like buying more sunglasses to give away to increase its visibility.
Even some proponents of changing the committees structure indicated concern about empowering the executives to decide which issue areas could be addressed by the senators in committee each year in the bylaws, especially because some student issues arise later in the semester. For example, this semester other issues not listed in the SGA goals that have been addressed include improving student access to the library and campus safety.
Opponents of committee reforms say the committee structure is now sufficient, and to the extent any changes need to be made, they can be done so without redrafting any portion of the constitution. They say the three committees are all capable of addressing these concerns, as some have, including the University Improvement’s passage of a resolution on the Campus Recreation Center. Additionally, the president is currently empowered to create ad-hoc committees for one-time special purposes or things needing extra attention. Committees may also create subcommittees for specific tasks.
However, the organization has failed to exercise this ability. At a recent SGA meeting, an executive board member, Secretary of Student Involvement Dustin Robinson, was reaching out informally for help from the members of organization in developing the community perks plan which would create “Norse nights” in local businesses where students and alumni could receive discounts or other perks for wearing school colors, a major goal of the organization.
At the end of the meeting, when all the workgroups came together, it became clear there were two opposing views on the positions, and the other side needed time to formulate a plan for their revisions. They were asked to complete before this week’s meeting but were unable to do so. Also, there was a rip among the members as to the exacts roles and responsibilities of the executive board versus the senators which needed additional debate. Now, any constitutional reforms will not be made until after next semester and students will not be able to vote on them in the upcoming election, frustrating Golden’s goal for the organization.
Some other minor constitutional changes were also considered, mostly formalistic and wording changes, and these were not heavily debated.
Any reforms to the SGA constitution must made be approved by a supermajority of the student senate, and then put to the students for a vote before final approval by the university’s Board of Regents.
However, reforming the constitution to allow it to be amended more easily or to not require approval of the constitution by the Northern Kentucky University Board of Regents was not addressed in any of the conversations, despite the SGA being the student-run organization designated to advocate for students’ interests to the university’s administration. The SGA is the only student organization on campus which requires Board approval of internal changes to its constitution.
Another resignation was announced at the Nov. 29 meeting. To date, Senators Emmy Jennings, Spencer Harden and Michael Curtis have resigned from the senate. Ebonique Moss has also resigned as a justice, and Chief Justice Shauna Prentice has submitted a resignation effective at the end of the semester.
SGA is currently accepting applications to fill these positions. Applications are available in the SGA office or the Dean of Students office, both located on the third floor of the Student Union.
Story by Jesse Call