Two student leaders are calling for the creation of a new representative body that would replace the Student Association Senate.
Junior Caitlin Bevin Doherty, who was running for SA president, has dropped out of the race and is working with sophomore SA Sen. Elliot Gillerman (ESIA-U) to effect change in the SA.
On Tuesday night, Gillerman told The Hatchet that he has been working with Doherty for the last month to “to permanently, once and for all, create an effective and efficient student government at GW.”
Doherty and Gillerman have a proposed a plan that would create a new body of similar size to the 30-member SA Senate but with different representatives. Doherty said the SA is in “disarray” and no longer serves students. She said she will no longer be pursuing the SA presidency and instead will be advocating for a new form of student representation.
The duo has begun to contact student organizations to discuss their plan. They said they believe if they can get the majority of students to sign a petition supporting the plan, the University’s Board of Trustees would hear them out.
Typically, the Board of Trustees does not intervene directly in student life issues; it also does not allow most students to attend meetings. It is the only body with the power to revoke the SA’s charter, which gives the Senate the power to allocate funding for student organizations.
SA President Audai Shakour said Doherty and Gillerman are naive about how to go about making change in the SA.
“The Board simply recognizes an SA charter and allocates money to the SA from the student fee,” Shakour said. “They could care less what the structure of the government is.”
Some SA members have come out against the proposed plan, and University administrators said they would not support or oppose the plan at this point.
The new group would be made up of seats reserved for representatives from student organizations. Large student organizations would have permanent seats in the body and smaller organizations would collaborate with each other to choose joint representatives to the body.
The proposed plan would also create a new, independent financial oversight body that would allocate funding to student organizations. The body would be made up of students who apply to sit on it and are appointed by the University.
Gillerman said the plan would have no effect on the SA executive branch or Student Court and said they hope to have the body established by the end of the semester and fully in place by this fall.
“You can get new people in the SA, but after 30 years of trying and having nothing to show for it, it is clear the problem is the organization,” Gillerman said. “Instead of new people, create a new organization.”
SA Senate veteran Ben Traverse (CCAS-U), a senior, has been a senator for three years and last year ran for SA president. He said not only is the Doherty-Gillerman plan flawed, it is also unnecessary.
“I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to reform the SA, and we are addressing many of the issues Bevin and Elliot have brought up,” Traverse said.
Traverse said the SA has been working for students by creating a graduate student council, an academic advising committee and a constitutional commission.
The Doherty-Gillerman plan to revamp the SA Senate is not a new idea. In 1999 SA President Phil Meisner announced he would be creating a new student government under a self-written constitution he created after being impeached by the SA Senate.
A more successful attempt to overthrow the SA was accomplished in 1970, when the Student Association’s charter was revoked by the Board of Trustees after a student petition and referendum to abolish the organization.
A proposed government that brought together students, faculty and administrators was proposed but failed in the mid-1970s. In 1976, with an 85 percent approval vote by the student body, the Board of Trustees created a new SA charter that is the base of the current SA structure.
Tim Miller, director of the Student Activities Center, said he has heard of the idea but is not taking a stance on it. Miller added that the Board of Trustees establishes an SA charter to create a student government at GW, but does not specify the structure of that government.
“Whatever student group is in place, they should be advocating for students,” Miller said. “If most students feel that’s not happening then they should consider restructuring.”