As the year comes to a close and Block 8 winds down, the Colorado College Student Government Association is preparing for next academic year. This means trying improve the organization as a whole and pivoting focus towards aspects that may have been neglected in previous years.
“In a really general sense, I see the CCSGA [next] year acting as more of a conduit than as a separate body,” said Michael Murney, CCSGA’s Vice President for Outreach. “A big issue that people have raised is that we feel like this removed, secretive organization that isn’t really reflective of the interests or voice of the student body.”
The CCSGA has come under scrutiny recently for a lack of student voice. In Andrea More’s article “Oy Ve, CCSGA,” published in the Home issue of Cipher Magazine, some of the practices of the student government were examined and criticized.
One of the bigger issues was the discretionary funds that the president and the four vice presidents were in charge of.
The intention behind discretionary funds is to be used as a means for members of the CCSGA to directly fund an event without going through the Finance Committee.
The Finance Committee approves the amount of money at the beginning of the year, and the proprietors of the discretionary funds can do what they will with the money. Potentially, this could save time for the CCSGA, but the amount of money involved with the discretionary funds is alarming.
More points out that the president is in charge of over $10,000 in discretionary funds, while the VPs are in charge of $5,000 each. More questions the practicality of this use of money.
“If a five percent increase in the student activities fee is to be implemented in the upcoming academic school year despite no vote from the student body, why are thousands of dollars in discretionary funds given to members of Full Council in the first place?” said Andrea More.
President Jacob Walden echoes this sentiment. “I’ve always been concerned personally about discretionary funds,” said Walden. “From what I understand, I think that everything that was done this year with discretionary funds was relevant to student clubs and promoting student groups.”
Walden notes that these funds only run through the Finance Committee once, which is concerning seeing as they have the potential for exploitation. Presidents and vice presidents could spend their allocated discretionary funds with no oversight by the rest of the council.
Murney explains that these funds did not create a specific problem in terms of transparency this year as everyone with access to discretionary funds acted with “due diligence” to ensure everyone in the council knew what was being done with the money.
However, as long as these funds exist within the CCSGA’s budget, the potential for corruption will linger. Because of this, CCSGA is seriously considering removing discretionary funds entirely for the upcoming school year.
“We don’t want people in the future taking discretionary funds and setting this precedent that you don’t have to get the approval of other people,” said Walden.
The notion of saving time is hardly enough to justify a lack of oversight. He notes that by working with the financial committee, the money used on discretionary funds could be easily used for the same purposes it was this year, while simultaneously enhancing the transparency of the council.
If this occurs, the Full Council and the public would be informed, and the meeting’s minutes would be put online.
“Everyone [will know] what’s going on and it [will be] clearer to everyone else who’s allocating the money and who’s in charge of the oversight,” said Walden.
In addition to making their spending more transparent, Murney and Walden hope to make the Student Government a more accurate reflection of the student body’s wishes.
While it is still in the preliminary planning stage and the details have not been hammered out, the CCSGA has some ideas for making themselves a more effective channel for student voice.
One method CCSGA plans to employ is to use student referenda to ask students what they want, and poll opinion on issues that the student body wishes to act upon.
Once they have polled opinions, CCSGA would be able to act and change the opinion of the students into legislation and resolutions.
“If we pass a resolution we can say, look, we have this many students in favor [and] we have this many student leaders elected by the student body saying ‘we would like to see this happen,’” said Walden.
By polling the students and subsequently using legislation as a tool for activism, CCSGA can effectively estimate public interest in a topic or issue. In a sense, it is leverage to get the ball rolling on changes students care about.
Andrea More also criticized a lack of legislation being passed this year. She points out that “it took until the second week of Block 7 for the first piece of legislation to even be considered for a vote by Full Council.”
By receiving increased student input, CCSGA hopes to pass more meaningful legislation next year. Part of this intention to pass legislation will mean doing less events next year while focusing more on certain issues.
“Student government’s always had like 20 or 30 different topics they’re trying to tackle at once,” said Walden. “[CCSGA’s] always been kind of unsuccessful because it ends [up] being sort of watered down at the end.”
While the details are still unclear at this time, Walden hopes CCSGA will be able to produce meaningful change within spheres that the student body cares about. This may mean working with Colorado Springs municipal government in addition to the administration.
“Carbon neutrality, off campus relations, the crossings on Nevada—these are the things that students care about and they can’t be resolved with the administration,” said Walden.
Finally, Murney and Walden both expressed hope that social media would be used to greater effect in the future.
“If people aren’t really focusing on student government, we need to use other sources to make sure people are all on the same page on what we’re trying to do,” said Walden.
Murney agrees, stating that social media is something we intend to use next year more dynamically. Hopefully, through more effective use of social media, the student body will be engage more easily with the student government and their goals.
All in all, Murney also hopes to create a personal dialogue between himself and the student body, both within and outside of student groups.
“I hope to have my face out there as much as possible. I hope to be connected to student group leaders on more of a face-to-face personal basis,” Murney said.