It is certainly no secret that the Student Government Association is widely considered something of a joke around campus. With a history full of scandals and a tendency to only be noticed when implementing policies that negatively affect the student body, this was bound to be the case. However, it does not have to be this way.
The image and policies of the SGA are decided by the philosophy the organization adopts with regards to its place and purpose on campus. In recent history it seems that the SGA has decided that they are an arm of the larger body of university administration and have been acting on that, separating themselves partially from the student body on the whole.
This can very easily be seen in the most recent budget proposed by the SGA. In this budget, funding for SGA outreach and advertising will be slashed across the board. All while almost $20,000 will be allocated to a somewhat obscure new initiative that would run programs designed to train a smaller, more select group of individuals for future roles in the SGA making the organization comprised less of student leaders and more of trained student administrators.
Another element of the SGA that reveals this philosophy is how they engage with students outside of their organization. As many theater groups on campus recently found out the SGA takes the policy of campus administration as practically unassailable.
Indeed, a policy from the Student Affairs Business Services Center has been repeatedly cited as the reason these orgs cannot use SGA money to buy props or costumes. Regardless of the validity of this explanation, the fact that the policy of administration is considered nonnegotiable rather than the needs of the orgs the SGA is representing shows the true affiliation of the SGA.
Yet this administrative focus is not the only SGA philosophy on campus, or even in the SGA. I would argue the most popular SGA philosophy around campus is one that would see the SGA less as a tool of administration and more as a union of students representing the interests of the student body at large. To this end, the SGA would push back against administrative policies that ran counter to student interests on terms determined by the students, not administration.
I believe this disconnect in philosophy is a large part of what ruined the reputation of the SGA. Since on one hand, the student body could not understand why the SGA was not standing up for them, leading them to believe and criticize the organization as incompetent. On the other hand, the SGA could not effectively deal with this criticism since being more competent administrators was not really what the student body wanted in the first place.
Thus a sort of loop was formed. The SGA would be criticized and in being criticized they would pull back and become increasingly detached from the student body overall by distancing themselves from issues or dissident voices that would hurt their “image.” This naturally would lead to more and more criticism as the needs of the student body were met less and less by the SGA.
It does not have to remain this way. To begin with, most of the students in the SGA mean very well and many of them even disagree with or are otherwise unaware of the philosophy that dominates their organization. If the present organization was challenged by a wave of candidates who advocated for the more student-oriented philosophy we could certainly see an SGA in the future with a diversity of opinion that could serve all parts of campus, student and administration, much better than it can currently.