An inside look shows what at student government is all about

Richard Portwood, Chris Loumeau and Sarah Standing, three of the five executive council members, pose for a photo last year. Photo courtesy of Student Government

Each Thursday, the student government council meeting begins when Student Body President Richard Portwood asks a council member to lead the group in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

From seemingly small tasks like delegating who leads in the pledge of allegiance to counseling together about how to spend more than 12 million dollars in student fees, student government officers are trying to gain what their website calls “valuable leadership experience.” To see how they go about doing this, it might help to take a peek at a normal student government meeting.

On Feb. 17, the group convened at its normal location, a conference room next to student government offices. Portwood banged his gavel on the table, the group stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and the meeting was underway.

The first order of business was student fees. On Jan. 20, 27 and Feb. 3, student fee hearings were held. The student council listened to accounts given by various departments that received funding from student fees. Their accounts detailed what they did with the student fee money allotted to them and their suggestions for any change in the amounts they receive.

Once the student fee hearings were over, the council discussed and voted upon changes to the current student fee structure. This is a unique feature of this university; rarely, very rarely, do administrators hand over so much financial responsibility to student leaders.

Of particular interest on Feb. 17 was what to do about Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) price hike. UTA had previously provided students with a year-long bus pass for only $20. UTA, however, called that a promotional period, designed to gain the interest of passengers, and announced that that period is over – thus the price hike.

Under the current structure, student fee money is used to subsidize student bus passes. Student council members had to decide if they could justify using student fee money to pay for only 1,000 bus passes, or if they needed to cut all funding to the UTA program altogether.

There were two sides to the argument. One said that if the student fees were to come from all students, then all should be allowed to have the pass. Therefore, if only 1,000 passes were purchased, this would shortchange the others who are paying student fees.

The other side said that there are a small number of students who are completely dependent on the bus for transportation and that the student fee money could reasonably be used to serve that small group of students.

In the end, the motion to cut all student fee funding of the UTA program passed by majority vote, with only five council members opposed.

That business taken care of, the president then asked for reports from each branch of student government; executive, academic senate, clubs and so on. Each member has to account for the past week of work and activities and their plans for the following week.

To close, the group stood, broke into rhythmic clapping and sang “Stand Up and Cheer,” the schools’ fight song.

The meeting is designed only as planning – the real work began when the council members went back to their government offices. After they graduate, each member will benefit from having participated in councils like this one.