Student Association President Lamar Thorpe proposed a dramatic overhaul of the SA’s structure that would reconfigure the legislative and executive branches in the annual state of the SA address Tuesday night.
The plan – which is outlined in a proposed constitution – would keep the SA Student Court, but creates an Executive Board that would oversee a newly structured legislature and office of the president. Thorpe made the 15-minute speech on the Mount Vernon Campus to an audience of about 50 people, including the SA Senate.
The current SA government mirrors the federal model of government with branches for an executive, senate and judiciary. The proposed structure would still include three branches, however the new legislature would be composed of three councils – finance, campus life and academic affairs – and an ad-hoc Rules Committee that would approve nominees by the president and constitutional amendments.
Thorpe, a senior, is proposing that students vote on the restructuring in a referendum to take place at the same time as this year’s elections for the SA, Marvin Center Governing Board and Program Board, which are scheduled for Feb. 21 and 22.
“Student organizations are discontented with our governances, administrators don’t take us seriously, and on occasion we all find ourselves frustrated with barriers created by our current structure,” Thorpe said during the speech. “(We) need to make changes to our structure. We need an SA that can complete initiatives, address student needs and effectively advocate on behalf of our peers.”
Thorpe said the proposal is based on advice from a commission he established in December to examine the effectiveness of the SA.
“The commission came up with one conclusion: that the current structure of the SA does not permit us to be an effective and efficient organization,” Thorpe said.
Members of the four councils would be directly elected to the groups, in contrast to the current system where students are elected to the Senate and then elected from within the body to sit on the committees.
The proposed finance and campus life councils would consist of 10 at-large representatives while the proposed academic affairs council would be composed of 14 members – each one representing a different school and committed to focusing on academic initiatives.
Thorpe said the new Finance Council would be more impartial.
“Unlike the current system where the Finance Committee may present a financially sound budget that is manipulated by partisan politics, the Finance Council will be dedicated solely to advocating funds to student organizations,” he said.
The new executive would consist of a president and vice president.
The new executive would have many fewer vice presidents and directors that would be appointed at the discretion of the SA president. The current SA Executive consists of five vice presidents and nine directors.
“There is too much going on in the executive. This would be easier if there wasn’t so much confusion about who is going to do what,” Thorpe said.
The Executive Board would consist of the president, as chair; the vice president, as vice-chair; chairs from the legislative councils; an attorney general to serve as legal counsel and prosecutor; and a treasurer to administer funds and keep financial records.
Thorpe’s proposal was met with stiff opposition Tuesday night by those serving in the body he is proposing to revamp.
SA Executive Vice President Josh Lasky, who is chair of the Senate, is against the proposal. Lasky, a senior, said the SA’s time should not be spent on internal housekeeping.
“I personally would rather focus on the software, than the hardware,” Lasky. “You need to address the needs of students rather than spending time reforming.”
SA Sen. Chris Rotella (CCAS-U), chair of the SA Rules Committee, agreed with Lasky.
“No matter how many times you move things around it will not fix the problem if students aren’t brought into the process,” said Rotella, a junior. “This new plan makes the SA less accountable to students, and allows for entire groups to be unrepresented when it comes to financial allocations. The best way to fix the SA is not to change the structure but to the change the attitudes.”
Thorpe said this is “not a final product” and he will be meeting with senators to discuss his proposed changes to the SA.
Such a proposed overhaul is not new to the SA. In 1970, GW students voted to disband the SA in an attempt to install a new student government, but in 1976 the GW Board of Trustees re-chartered the organization.
Last year, a similar plan was proposed by senior Bevin Doherty and junior Elliot Gillerman, who called for the elimination of the SA Senate. Their plan would have installed a new student government composed of 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.