The Students’ Association Congress is not a high school student government. Both represent students to an administration. But collegiate student governments are more than a few friendly faces who organize field days, decorate school dances or buy students pizza; they strive to improve student life. Without the SA Congress, students do not have a link to the administration, a liaison that is committed to students because they are students. This link is invaluable as long as it effectively represents the student body, tackles the pressing issues, both big and small, and never stops working toward a better future for the students on this campus.
But, the link is almost broken. The 2008-09 SA Congress has not fulfilled its responsibilities. Instead, its president is impeached, campaign promises remain unfulfilled, forums remain unscheduled and legislation remains a steady stream of public relations statements. Congress is “all voice and no bite,” a weak representation of the students that lacks authority and action.
But, thankfully, the link is not completely broken. Under new leadership, SA Congress still can salvage itself and become an authoritative voice for the student body this semester if it just does something, anything.
The 2005-06 SA Congress faced similar problems. During the 2005 fall semester, it passed a total of three resolutions: to encourage Edwards Hall residents not to park in Mabee Hall parking spaces, to direct its Administration Relations committee to look into the costs of intramurals and to support unity among women’s social clubs. These resolutions were empty statements; they were a weak cry for change without the action needed for change.
Similarly, the 2008-09 SA Congress recently passed its own “fluff” resolution, formally approving legislation that endorsed the building of the new advertisement kiosk. Of course, Physical Resources planned to build the kiosk with or without the “approval” of Congress, but now our student leaders essentially have told the administration that the student body supports the kiosk and the no-flyer policy that accompanies it.
Although the two congresses are comparable, we see a difference. The 2005-06 SA Congress changed. During the 2006 spring semester, it fully used its student leadership abilities in two significant ways: taking steps to actively discuss core curriculum changes with the administration and working to open the “World Famous Bean” on Sunday nights. It recognized significant problems on campus and tackled the obstacles to improve student life; the results were laudable, but they took actual effort to achieve. To ensure students had more options than just Pizza Hut for their Sunday dinner plans, Congress members collected almost 1,000 student signatures for a petition. This showed a true dedication to their role as delegates in a collegiate student government.
When making campaign promises in the Executive Officer Debates last April, Daniel Paul Watkins, former president of SA Congress, promised to seek additional means of financial aid and assure that the university’s quality goes up with the cost.
Congress has not yet fulfilled these promises. Besides funding various trips for student groups, sponsoring a hole at the new disc golf course and providing free bowling and 200 football tickets to students, the largest issues it tackled were recycling and extended library hours. The results? Library hours were extended only during finals week, and Congress still plans to, but has not yet, purchased 30 recycling bins for Nelson Hall and the Mabee Business Building. In the meantime, students can use the same recycling areas they have used for years, found in the Brown Library, the Campus Center and the Hardin Administration Building.
The most praiseworthy action by this year’s student government was the political forum it co-sponsored with the Optimist. This forum gave students a venue to hear both sides of the political spectrum, Democrat and Republican, making for a more educated vote on Election Day. This forum also partially fulfilled the promise new president Sarah Pulis made in last year’s Executive Officer Debates. She said she planned to continue the open forums established by the previous SA Congress because the discussions are beneficial to both sides.
“With all of the new things ACU is embarking on next year, it is so important for students to be involved in dialogue with administrators,” she said.
Last year’s SA Congress saw the import of the forum. It sponsored forums where students asked questions directly to key administration members about the iPhone Initiative, increased tuition, the university’s financial decisions and meal plan changes. It also directly sought student input through a campus-wide survey that addressed issues such as the alcohol policy, dancing, attendance policy and curfew.
The survey results showed 79 percent of students supported a policy that would allow students 21 years or older to consume alcohol off campus at non-school-sanctioned events. Based on these results, Congress supported a new alcohol policy, and with actual numbers and data to take to the administration, change happened.
The survey also highlighted overwhelming support for dancing with 89 percent in favor of allowing off-campus dancing and 88 percent supporting dancing for school-affiliated organizations. About half of the students also said they found the current attendance policies too rigorous or penalizing. While these two issues remain unaltered, the students have issued a challenge to Congress through their responses. They demand change, and our student government should be the vehicle to that change.
The 2007-08 SA Congress also began important discussions about intramurals, changes to Chapel and the need for an even attendance policy. This year’s Congress should use this past work as a stepping stone and continue its efforts; even with the dark stain of a president impeachment, Congress still can be a strong voice for the student body. New President Sarah Pulis has the opportunity to make this impeachment a turning point for Congress. And, we wish her success. Because although free games of bowling and pizza on Service Saturday are nice, such legislation does not make a Students’ Association Congress. The student body needs leadership that will earn respect from the administration and make a difference for the students on this campus, both now and in the future.