Column: SA: reform first

The Student Association will be asking students to approve a referendum to increase the student fee by 100 percent. Although I support holding the referendum, I am finding it difficult to justify giving more money to the SA. Students deserve an opportunity to raise their student fee, but first, they deserve a reformed SA. Two years ago the SA allowed more than $30,000 of your money to be unaccounted for; last year your money was used inappropriately by the highest ranking senator in the SA, J.P. Blackford (who still serves on the Senate’s most powerful committee). Finally, since the year has begun, neither the Senate nor SA President Kris Hart have moved toward substantial reform. Sadly, since scandal rocked the SA these past two years, your student government has refused to fix itself.

Since the beginning of the year, a minority of SA leaders has managed to block reform. When legislation was introduced to make Senate voting records public (vacancies are still filled secretly), SA President Hart refused to support it. Although most of the Senate voted to pass this important reform, an effort led by Sen. J.P. Blackford and those who support him managed to kill the proposed legislation.

The need for reform is further emphasized by Tuesday evening’s revelations concerning SA finances. At this week’s Senate meeting, President Hart revealed that the University has used SA monies without Senate approval. Although the details are still unclear, if true, this development will easily trump every scandal in the memorable past. Money for student groups may have been mishandled by our own student leaders and our University. How can anyone even suggest that the same system can be applied to a budget twice the size? Student trust has been abused and student money has been stolen; before we raise the student fee, the system must be reformed.

In order to repair our broken SA, Sen. Ben Traverse and I are introducing a multi-part ethics package. The package will include at least five parts intended to make the necessary improvements to the SA. These include a bill mandating that the SA contract an external entity to conduct a full financial review this year, a bill imposing term limits on senators, a bill creating an Ethics Committee that can be convened to investigate wrongdoing in the SA, a bill placing a ban on heads of student organizations from serving on the Finance Committee, and the reintroduction of the bills proposing to end secret voting in the Senate. Students should no longer tolerate the same individuals controlling the same SA every single year. I believe students are tired of the corruption and secrecy practiced by their representatives. If passed, the ethics package will represent a huge step toward rebuilding broken student trust and enabling the student fee referendum to pass.

The SA is seeking to increase its budget to one million dollars. Although student groups desperately need this increased funding, I hesitate to give control of this much student money to an institution that has proven not to be trustworthy. Before the SA is be given such immense power and responsibility, we need to impose institutional protections.

Sen. Traverse and I strongly wish to work for an organization that we can believe in. I can’t defend the SA to students when the person who stole from them is still serving and voting on allocations. I can’t believe in the SA when we vote secretly. Right now, I can’t make a good argument for students to trust SA when the necessary protections are still not in place. Students have demanded change, and the SA still pretends that nothing is wrong. Raising the student fee will be a huge aid to struggling student organizations, but students should only approve the raise if the SA finally reforms itself.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Student Association senator.

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