You’ve heard it before, the phrase, “Student Government doesn’t do anything.” Sometimes, if I hear a friend or classmate say it, I try to muster out a reply, arguing their work has an impact on NC State. I feel like it would be an injustice to badmouth the work of these passionate, driven students. However, I now see it as an injustice to sugarcoat the reality, which is much more nuanced than “does” or “doesn’t do anything.”
I’ve effectively been Technician’s dedicated SG beat writer for the past year, going to Student Senate meetings, committee meetings, elections, and I feel like I have a good sense of how the organization operates. However, this means that I’ve largely avoided showing a public opinion or bias. Seeing as how I’m now graduating and will no longer be covering SG, I no longer have that journalistic obligation.
It’s inaccurate to say SG doesn’t do anything. SG’s actions have an impact on the university, but these have a wide range of impact.
Some of these actions are extremely noticeable. Wolfpack Pickup, a program that drives physically impaired students around campus in golf carts, originated in SG. Approximately $200,000 is distributed to student organizations each year through SG. The Student Body President is a voting member of the Board of Trustees, the ultimate governing body at UNC schools. To put it in context, this position is so impactful that two members of East Carolina University’s board tried to bribe a candidate for president at their university.
Some aspects of SG are less influential. A lot of the bills that Student Senate pass are entirely internal modifications to governing documents. While they may make the organization run smoother, they have next to no impact on the average student. I’m also of the opinion that governing documents are far too long, sitting at over 100 pages. However, I’m not here to bash SG’s internal processes. There is a far greater issue.
The crux of the problem with SG is in its mission of advocacy, meaning bringing students’ concerns up to administrators and pressing for change. The word “advocacy” is used so frequently, especially during SG elections, I would argue it has lost its meaning. Many of the bills and resolutions that Student Senate pass are recommendations or opinions to administrators. Advocacy is only as effective as administrators’ ability to listen, and frankly, a lot of administrators don’t want to listen.
Every fall, Student Senate takes the first step in vetting potential student fee increases. This is a time for SG to advocate for students’ desires to keep costs down, balanced with increasing costs of services across the university. This fall, a last minute $10.40 increase to the campus security fee was proposed. Senate was only notified two days before a meeting, which was not nearly enough time to consider the proposal, so the fee increase was not approved. The recommendations were passed onto further committees, and eventually the Board of Trustees, which reverted the Senate's recommendation and moved forward with the $10.40 increase.
This disregard for the Senate's recommendations is not an isolated incident. Similarly to fees, Student Senate passes guidelines for tuition increases. These guidelines were meant to act as a ceiling on increases, for instance, Senate recommended a 2% increase to in-state undergraduate tuition at most. When passed onto the tuition review advisory committee, administrators pushed for a further increase, ignoring what Senate finalized.
This session, a senator wrote a resolution calling for the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity to create a Title IX task force, intended to investigate barriers to reporting cases of sexual assault and find ways to better support survivors. Though the resolution passed through Senate, she said nothing came of it after. So much time was put into this, only for the university to ignore it.
Countless other bills have been passed, recommending changes. Between using gender-affirming language, renaming Daniels Hall, divesting from fossil fuels and addressing prohibitive costs of graduate school, Senate is arguing for the right topics. Research and careful consideration is done with this legislation; however, administrators largely don’t seem responsive to these advocacy efforts.
How do you address this problem?
For one, NC State could give SG more responsibility. Include more students on committees as voting members, have more departments co-host events with senators, solicit more feedback from Senate. Whenever administrators come to Senate meetings in search of student input, senators always have valuable insights to provide.
Another option for members of SG — take a page out of Technician’s book and be persistent. One of the first things I learned in my time at the publication is the fact that department heads, directors and administrators will have a tendency to ignore you. Don’t let this deter you. Send a follow-up email, send five, keep calling their office, go bother them in person, contact their boss! There are always options.
Finally, SG’s authority on campus will be more impactful if more people vote and are engaged. The more students engage in SG, the harder it will be for administrators to ignore proposals and recommendations. Students — talk to your senators, student body president and vice president. Share your concerns; they want to hear from you. SG — reach out to more groups, connect with more students.
Farewell, Student Government. Thanks for all the memories.