Students across campus are beginning to ask me the same question: “We have a student government? What do they do? Why do we even need one?”
I’ve paid close enough attention to three elections, now going on four, to feel somewhat confused about what all the fuss is really for when I spend much of the year being apathetic about if not unaware of what UVUSA does.
As it turns out, I’m not the only one.
The opinion of UVUSA I’ve gotten from some faculty and staff is that the government representatives generally have very productive relationships with each department. Students themselves have less productive a connection to UVUSA.
Though the students have been various, and their opinions, the general sense I get is that most of our students don’t know what UVUSA does for them, and some of them don’t think we even need a government.
There is an extraordinary participation in clubs on this campus — “maybe more than I’ve seen on any campus,” says Val Brown, Dining Services Director. Students here are very engaged within their programs and fields, and UVUSA provides opportunities for them to do that with clubs.
However, there are some who prefer to create an independent club structure that serves particular needs and desires; the given UVUSA club structure is not always conducive for these students.
“I feel like most of the paperwork we have to fill out to joining UVUSA is almost a waste of time,” says Mike Booth, an anthropology student who has formed an unofficial club for his peers. “They’ve got so many meetings you have to go to, training for programs [like OrgSync] I don’t use, and papers to to fill that it’s almost easier to just get some fellow students together and go out for some coffee.”
He also suggests some may be discouraged by fees from participating fully in the given club structure. “It’s hard enough to get members, to get people to dedicate a lot of time on top of classes, to get them to pay dues, too.” Why are dues demanded?
Booth points out he does have some disillusionment with UVUSA in general. “If you’re an organization with the ability to funnel and distribute millions of dollars,” he says, “you’d better have your shit together. Wouldn’t you be jaded if you kept hearing about all the retreats these kids go on, and all the pointless spending?”
Todd Low, Associate Professor of Automative Technology, talked to me about students in autotrades. They participate in annual classic car shows, swap meets, and racing on the Bonneville speedway. Any money made from these events, which are among the biggest in the West Coast for gearheads, goes towards auto students in scholarships. Low also notes the program must do most of its own advertising.
“Student government’s been good to us,” Low said. “I just have a hard time getting kids involved.”
Echoing Booth on the challenge of getting others involved on campus, Low described the diversity of his students doing work as a factor. “Our classes are scheduled from early morning to noon because most of our students work afternoons and nights, at Wal-Mart or at mechanic shops or wherever.” He tries to get auto students interested in working on the paperwork and service projects required by UVUSA but they already have other activities in the program and lifestyles off campus that can limit such involvement.
I spoke with Mikki O’Connor, Associate Dean of the Woodbury School of Business, who says business majors are also active together on campus, but not necessarily with UVUSA.
They don’t even refer to their student organizations as clubs. “We have professional organizations,” O’Connor clarifies. She emphasizes how important it is to them that they network, interact with contemporaries in the field, and take themselves seriously as academics. The Woodbury School of Business faculty, curriculum and alumni have received AACSB accreditation, held by the likes of Duke and Harvard and less than 15 percent of other business schools in the world. Generally speaking, such intellectual seriousness is surely of the kind President Holland has noted our campus needs more of.
“I think UVUSA does many good things,” O’Conner says, “like collecting data and getting the word out on events. But I don’t know how they can help us, or what they do for us…we don’t really know what they do.”
Other clubs and organizations have also opted to create an alternative or independent club structure. Among these would be the Philosophy Club, whose students are part of one of the most prestigious programs on this campus — our Ethics Across the Curriculum program has been honored by the Theodore M. Hesburgh Award from the University of Notre-Dame — and they interact with some important and nationally recognized philosophers who have chosen to teach here.
Adam Wilson, a junior philosophy major, describes the club as creating its own leadership hierarchy and participating in events that involve each member as much as possible to “escape out of the infantilely bureaucratic club system.”
Wilson feels disappointed with the UVUSA, saying, “Their activities are necessarily disenfranchising to a significant portion of students.” He argues that only a small percentage of students would care about the date nights, speaker events and dances. “It’s just hard to take some of that seriously. There is no effort [from UVUSA] to make our school look good academically.”
His disappointment is also connected to what he believes is, at the least, a careless attitude about transparency in the government. UVUSA should publicly account for how they use their discretionary budget. “It seems like if we’re talking about a lot of students with so many different interests and a lot of their money, I should be able to know about those things from student government in a way that isn’t byzantine. It’s federal law. I’ve tried to ask the people in those offices for information on the budget, how they’re spending my money. And myself and everyone else I know has failed.”
Lisa Thurman, a senior majoring in Theater Arts and Performance, had the opportunity to workshop with Jason Alexander, who asked theater students, “There’s such room for growth on this campus — what can you do to make your university better?” Our theater students have received regional awards for excellence for scenic design, sound, directing, and stage management.
I asked Thurman what she thought of the event in general and Alexander’s admonition. She said, “I’d like to see more integration between all the arts students — all the students, really.” But she expressed discouragement that they will have to increase ticket sales for the university to pay attention to them, or even correct the misleading signs to the Norda, and she emphasizes that Jason Alexander was not brought on campus by UVUSA but by Traci Hainsworth in the School of Arts.
There are several more students I contacted, but they all expressed a similar opinion. Students seem to feel UVUSA is its own organization that sometimes ignores many students and programs. Students who enter UVUSA from the outside are often unprepared for how tight its membership can appear to be. And this is especially true of elections, when it is worth asking how you feel represented in our government. An international student hasn’t been student body president in over a decade; to be undisturbed by this fact is to be ignorant of how multicultural our campus is.
This year, the election is special for at least one reason: Team Aspire is not composed of government incumbents.
This doesn’t happen too often, although since I started attending this campus in 2006, Team Aspire is only the third team to run from outside UVUSA.
A year ago, our current government was elected with no opposing team. The question “why” has been on my mind for the past few months, and not out of spite or bitterness with President Loumeau and his team, because I have none.
I have only questions about whether UVUSA is just overwhelmed with more than 33,000 students, or if they are simply out of touch with them.
By Matthew A. Jonassaint