Senators for the People? It’s Up to U[CO]
Newly elected chair Tate Atkinson presides of Committee of the Whole to review new legislation before voting on whether or not to bring it to the floor. (Ryan Naeve/The Vista) This is an editorial.
In the past few months, reporters from the Vista have been diving deep into the role of “Government Watchdog” with more weekly coverage of the University of Central Oklahoma’s Student Association than we’ve seen in several semesters.
Again and again, reporters have been asked why they choose to pursue UCOSA so fiercely and unapologetically. However, again and again, UCOSA continues to slip up, seemingly forget laws and ask reporters to step down and cease reporting the truth.
If nothing else, this exists as a sole reason to continue the pursuit and dive even deeper to hold this university’s most influential and powerful student organization to the highest standard.
If that isn’t enough for you, here are some other reasons you should care about UCOSA’s not-so-healthy habits.
- Last Week’s Front-Page News:
Last week, UCOSA voted to change their own bylaws on the resignation process of a member. The original bylaw called for any member that had violated state or national law, UCOSA Constitutional Law, UCOSA Statute or UCO Student Congress Bylaw to be asked to resign through a UCO email. Now, following a “Do Pass” vote on April 9, violations of any law, statute or bylaw are not mentioned at all.
“In the case that a Senator has a grievance against another Senator, including Congressional Leadership, legislation shall be drafted, which outlines grievances,” new UCOSA Bylaw Chapter 2, Section 7.
Let me repeat that: “In the case that a Senator has a grievance against another Senator.”
A grievance? What is outlined as a grievance? If Remington Dean stole Tate Atkinson’s sandwich, can Tate file legislation to have Remington removed?
More likely with a tight-knit group like UCOSA, violations, mistakes and irresponsible decisions could go unnoticed, unpunished and quickly become forgotten. As Tate Atkinson told a reporter in UCOSA Makes Changes, Violations Continue, “Yes, it is within my duties to keep the executive members accountable, but I am not a watch dog or whistleblower.”
2. Lawbreaking Lawmakers – With No Repercussions:
In the past academic year, UCOSA has been seemingly breaking laws left and right, right under the student body’s nose. In fall 2017, the Vista covered our student government’s indiscretions against Oklahoma state law at least three times. This semester, even under the microscope, they continuously violate those laws.
Who is to blame for this?
Well, if you’ve been to any Congressional meetings, you may have heard that UCOSA blames lack of student interest. The leaders of this campus are blaming the very students they claim to serve for their law-breaking habits.
And maybe, to some extent, this could be true. With no one to hold them accountable, who’s to say they shouldn’t break the law? It’s up to the democracy to hold their government accountable. It’s up to the people to ensure their government does not operate in secret, because once that happens, the democracy dies.
While, yes, UCOSA shouldn’t break laws because, well, they’re laws, someone has to pick up the baton at some point. Students must hold UCOSA accountable, especially when the Accountability, Reform and Transparency Chair Tate Atkinson believes things like this:
“This rule [bylaws Chapter 2, Section 7] first asks that members of UCOSA have a working knowledge of, and abide by, all UCOSA, Local, State and National laws. This is unreasonable.” (UCOSA Makes Changes, Violations Continue).
3. Elections, Appointments, Corruption:
Let’s start this off with a few facts.
According to the spring 2018 Demographics Book, over 14,000 students currently attend UCO. Roughly about 40 of those actually serve on UCOSA. All students are eligible to join UCOSA. All students can vote.
In last year’s election that ended in Stockton Duvall becoming UCOSA president, only about 420 people on this campus voted. At all. That’s roughly three percent of the student body population.
Three percent. That three percent decided the fate for our student body for the next year, a fate that led our campus to national controversy (Ken Ham Causes Controversy on Campus).
This semester, another election took place with only one option: Remington Dean. The very Chair of Congress that continues to violate Oklahoma State Law. The very Chair that has rewritten UCOSA Bylaw to make it more difficult to replace any member of UCOSA.
Presidential Candidate Remington Dean and Vice Presidential Candidate Mario Figueroa were the only names on the ticket. While other duos began with hopes of running, they slowly but surely dropped out of the race, with theories swirling around of being forced to do so.
Leaving elections aside, for the past couple of years, UCOSA has been appointing senators, regardless of the fact that their own bylaws call for elections. This semester, 13 senators were appointed with CR18-200 and another 5 with CR18-201, all but one of which voted for the new Chair, Vice Chair and Secretary of Student Congress.
All of these positions are intended to serve the student body to the best of their abilities. However, without elections, how much say does a student actually have?
4. Finally, everyone’s favorite topic. Money.
Each semester, included in every student’s tuition, is a Student Activity Fee (SAF). This fee equals out to $14.25 per credit hour. A student with an average 15-hour load would be paying $225 each semester. Over 14,000 students at $225 per semester equals out to roughly $200,000 of the student body’s money, 35 percent of which goes directly to UCOSA to oversee. This equals out to about $134,000 for the 2018-2019 academic year.
The money is then divided, by UCOSA, amongst student organizations based on a single meeting organization representatives have with UCOSA representatives each year. However, according to CB18-204, student government receives 16 percent of that funding, about $21,440.
One more time for the people in the back: $21,440 goes directly to UCOSA. This does not include the hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Permanent Reserve Fund that is made up of all unused student activity fees throughout the years.
Regardless of the Vista’s coverage, regardless of involvement on campus, regardless of the $200,000 a semester UCOSA is in charge of, regardless of absolutely any other reason you could possibly think of. $32,000 is a lot of reasons to become a government watchdog. You don’t have to be a journalist to question your government. You don’t have to be a senator to hold them accountable.
You do, however, have to show up for your school. Show up for your fellow students and show up for yourself.
Why should you care about what UCOSA is doing? Because they’re doing it with your money, under your nose, at your school.