SGA’s latest legislative session has broken me

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Mon Mar 04, 2019

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of its author and do not necessarily reflect those of Illinois Tech or TechNews. Furthermore, far more substantial and far less subjective coverage of the session in question can be found in the article “Amendments Amendment Passes at Fifth Senate Hearing of the Spring Semester” by SGA Senator Grace Arnold in this same issue.

 

I begrudgingly drag whatever remains of my mortal prison out of bed well after noon has already passed. Judgment is a luxury long lost to my shattered mind and psyche as my entire existence begins to define itself around a central theme of regret. A happenstance glance in the mirror and the shell of a human staring back at me through it only furthers my hazy conclusion that the night prior ranks among my worst decisions (of which there are many). After a lazy attempt at slapping some sense of being presentable onto myself, I shuffle my way out of my door and into a day that will be marked by lethargy and a lack of basic human functioning. The only resolve I can latch on to is that last night was a mistake.

If you’re wondering what kind of banger I attended the night before, it’s called a Student Government Association (SGA) legislative session. The latest one on February 27 has broken me, and this article will be my attempt from beyond the aether to explain how.

I feel the need to make it clear from the beginning of this stream of consciousness that, despite this having been what some see as a rivalrous year between our two organizations, TechNews and SGA have always shared the same interests at heart. It brings me no satisfaction to do anything that is negative in tone about SGA. As a former senator myself (and more importantly as a student of Illinois Tech), it is in my best interest that SGA succeeds at its job, and I will always support its efforts to do so.

However, the display I witnessed on this Wednesday night did not convince me of any progress towards this goal. Of course, this is all also just my personal opinion as a non-elected member of the organization. Perhaps those within it who took a more active role in this meeting than I did have different opinions about its level of productivity. If so, I invite any corrections or rebuttals against my word to be sent and printed within this same publication.

SGA legislative sessions are a new form of meeting created under the 2018-2019 administration. In an official update over 1000 words long to the SGA slack channel (sgaiit.slack.com) on February 12, SGA President Eric Scott summarized that these session “will be almost entirely focused on discussion, legislation, and other true parliamentary business.”

Already, my concern is raised. Traditionally, at least as long as I have been a student at this university since fall of 2015, SGA alternated its Wednesday evenings between committee meetings and senate hearings. From my perspective, the introduction of this new meeting format represents a forced shift towards internal housekeeping items as opposed to keeping SGA’s focus on the projects and other actions that most directly allow it to serve the student body.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Perhaps not, at least in theory. If the organization’s leadership sees it as necessary to dedicate the organization’s focus towards ensuring its power structures and rules are up to date, it isn’t my place to say that is untrue. After all, anyone who has looked through the SGA constitution or bylaws will likely agree with me that they are woefully in need of some serious revisions, even in terms of formatting, basic organization, and use of inclusive language.

But, the benefits from meetings that are specifically designed to cater to these internal matters are only realized if said meetings actually generate actionable change for organization. This most recent legislative session, in my subjective opinion, did not do that.

The first item on this meeting’s agenda was an item known as the Amendments Amendment. Silly name aside, this amendment would put in place less stringent requirements for the SGA senate to update its governing documents. There is certainly merit behind this initiative. For months, the organization has run up against a wall when trying to make simple changes to its governing documents that could have been easily avoided.

It is ironic then that an amendment designed to help the organization save time and bypass its bureaucratic restraints was mired in roundabout discussion and a lack of consensus. While many of the points brought up were legitimate (such as the amendment bringing SGA more in line with U.S. governmental entities), a general sense of disorder permeated the discussion.

The outcome of this discussion was a suspension of the SGA bylaws (as it is a violation of said bylaws to make alteration of the executive election code when executive elections are supposedly underway) to pass the amendment.

Still, this discussion and eventual amendment passage could still be seen as productive. It was roundabout and unnecessarily prolonged, sure, but its end state was still an improvement from its beginning state. I cannot say the same for the next hour of the session.

The following discussion at this session of the purpose of the Student Activity Fund (SAF) brought the organization nowhere and was a completely unproductive use of valuable resources. To present as abridged of a version as I can of what happened, President Eric Scott and Finance Board Chair Jorge Morin presented dissenting opinions on whether or not to redefine the purpose of the SAF.

The ensuing discussion, loosely held together using a piecemeal application of Robert’s Rules, ranged from supporting the purposeful ambiguity of the current SAF purpose to a whole slew of semi-related points about various tangentially related aspects of the SAF. If I tried to recount the various points related to the nebulous topic of “purpose of the SAF,” this article would easily span several pages of this issue.

But it isn’t the existence of discussion about what should be a non-issue that angers me so. Taken by itself, it’s a very healthy sign if the members of SGA are able to have a civil discussion about a divisive topic. However, where I have a problem is when these civil discussions bring the organization nowhere new and are dropped just as abruptly as they are brought up.

What was the end result of this discussion? After what felt like an hour of back-and-forth semantics over the SAF and Finance Board, Director of Campus Life Patrick Fina read, verbatim, the SAF statement that exists in the current Illinois Tech student handbook. Then a motion was made to kill this discussion, which eventually turned into the initial motion that began the conversation being rescinded. That’s it. That’s all that came out of this use of SGA’s time and resources.

A sizeable amount of time in the exact middle of the week was dedicated to a discussion that was then abruptly dropped. Somehow, the organization had gotten this far in its second week of discussing the SAF before anyone bothered to see if a statement already existed in other readily available university documentation.

Time and time again, this current cadre of SGA members has sought out measures to reduce these intensive time sinks that do nothing but sour my opinion of its operations. The application of Robert’s Rules as a parliamentary procedure for keeping order fails to do so as a single agenda item cannot happen without several corrections of procedure, miscommunications about speaking privilege, and a general display of unprofessionalism as those who bothered to actually learn the rules (and are very much appreciated for doing so) attempt to corral the others into actually following them. The end result is still the same: lost time that could have been better spent on more productive means.

If SGA really wants to be regarded as a force for generating positive change among the student body, I think it would do well to actually show it’s capable of doing so. Prolonged discussions about how to vote or redefining a statement that no one bothered to actually read before showing up to the meeting are not the way to do so. I know from experience and observation that every senator in the organization has a vested interest in projects and actions that directly benefit the lives of other students. It’s a shame that they seem to have taken a backseat to the current bureaucratic mess that currently defines the organization.

Of course, as I said before, I am only one person with no real authority to tell SGA how to do its job. I’d just like to see it all actually happen instead of whatever this night was.

But at least it certainly all made for a very rough morning the next day.

 

 

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2019 - Spring - Issue 6
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