UCOSA not meeting while off-campus

The UCO Student Association (UCOSA) cannot introduce new business until meetings can be held in-person or the state legislature passes a law that would allow virtual votes.

Bill No. 1031 would allow UCOSA, and any public body, to introduce new business and vote virtually, and Bill No. 1032 would require UCOSA to livestream its meetings.

UCOSA operated under a temporary amendment, Bill No. 661 or OK-SB661, of the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act that allowed it to vote virtually to pass legislation during the fall semester.

The amendment was terminated on Nov. 15. Gov. Stitt passed a new emergency order Jan. 22, but it failed to include the amendment to allow virtual meetings.  

UCOSA cannot vote on any legislation under UCO’s off-campus status, which is set to be lifted Feb. 8.

The date for which UCO is set to hold on-campus classes was pushed back from its original start date on Feb. 2 when UCO President Patti Nuehold-Ravikumar announced the extended restrictions on Jan. 26.

“At some point in the semester, as a recommending body, we need to have some say,” said UCOSA Chair De Shannon, “we need to hold votes that are influential for students.”

The possibility of an extension to the amendment is on the horizon as a Oklahoma senate bill has been proposed to allow and encourage virtual public meetings.

“So much of our life now is conducted online, and in the short-term will remain so due to the pandemic, it makes sense to carry forward the measures that brought increased access and transparency to government at all levels,” said Senator Pro Tempore Greg Treat.

“It’s looking like it’s going to be extended,” Shannon said. “And that’s being said if UCO extends virtual.

“If they don’t extend, as long as we have in-person quorum, that doesn’t apply to us.”

Shannon claimed that UCOSA is not required to operate under the OMA, although the Congress prefers to do so for “full transparency, but the requirement to comply with the OMA is what triggered this dilemma.

As previously reported in The Vista, UCO is a public body that distributes public funds, and student governments are considered to be a committee under their university and required to follow OMA and the Open Records Act. 

Although UCOSA removed the language from its constitution that explains OMA and ORA in September, it is not absolved from its responsibility to comply with both.

UCOSA Senator Emily Grim, who chairs the Committee for Accountability, Reform, and Transparency, told The Vista last semester that UCOSA meetings must follow the OMA.

“We still do have to follow [the OMA],” Grim said. “Essentially, we’re still held to it, in the same way that we’re held to all UCO, OSGA, and Oklahoma guidelines for groups like ours.”

If UCO continues to extend virtual learning and that amendment is not extended, UCOSA may face another obstacle that could affect UCO students: drafting and voting on budget recommendations for student organizations for the next fiscal year starting on July 1.

UCOSA Congress discussed budgets during its first virtual meeting of the semester on Monday. Shannon explained the process of drafting recommendations for student organizations:

  1. Applications for student organizations to request budget apportions are available online until Friday, Feb. 5 on UCOSA’s site.
  2. The UCOSA Ways and Means Committee interviews student organizations to discuss budgetary needs during the subsequent three Fridays.
  3. The Ways and Means Committee drafts a budget recommendation during the fourth Friday (March 5).
  4. UCOSA Congress votes on the draft provided by the Ways and Means Committee the following Monday (March 8).
  5. If congress votes in favor of the draft, it is sent as a recommendation to the UCO budget manager.

Shannon, who was previously a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said that if UCOSA is not able to vote on budgets by its own five-week timeline, it will still be able to make its budget recommendations as long as they are completed by the end of the semester.

“If the state legislators don’t get anything until April [on UCO funding], we can still vote on that, and the money will be the same,” Shannon said. “As long as it’s approved by July 1 or the end of school, [student organizations’] money won’t be affected.”

Shannon said that if circumstances do not allow for a vote to be held, he intends to pursue a solution with the “chain of custody.”

“Some of the students that are in those groups, that’s their passion in college,” Shannon said. “If someone is passionate about a group and has events they’d love to plan and we can’t give that to them, that’s something, personally, that I would hate.”

Shannon has considered introducing solutions outside of a vote in case UCOSA cannot vote.

“If it comes down to it that the whole semester is washed on if we can’t vote on anything, I think importance would prevail,” Shannon said. 

The search for a new secretary

The UCO Student Association has operated its first two weeks without a secretary, whose role is to fulfil the requirements under the Open Records Act.

Hannah Turner, who had previously served on UCOSA Congress as vice chair, dismissed herself from Congress during winter break due to a heavy class schedule, Shannon said.

“Hannah’s someone that loves to give it her all,” Shannon said, “and she didn’t feel like she could necessarily do that with her major classes getting harder.”

Former Secretary, DeLauren Diaz,  was promoted to Turner’s position, leaving a hole in the secretary position.

The secretary would otherwise be voted in by UCOSA Senators during the election cycle, but that vote cannot happen until UCO returns to on-campus learning or other allowances are made to meet virtually. .

Statutes within UCOSA’s constitution have no precedent for filing a congressional seat during a term without a vote, leaving Shannon and Diaz some autonomy to fill the opening.

“Not even Cole [Stanley] as an advisor has seen this,” Shannon said.

Shannon launched a form for senators to apply to fill the seat with interviews to follow.

“We just felt it was a lot easier and a lot more efficient to appoint this person,” Shannon said, “unless there was senator feedback that wanted to grant an election.

“We didn’t have any push-back on the application, interview section,” Shannon said. “But there is that what-if.”

Shannon has considered including UCOSA President James Limbaugh and Vice President Christian Coleman into the decision, although he wants to avoid excessive intersections between the responsibilities of the executive and congressional branches.

“With two people voting, it’s kind of iffy,” Shannon said, “so if need-be, I’m kind of open to opening it up to UCOSA [executive] as a whole. 

“I would hate for someone that’s wanting to apply for the position to not feel like they have any chance because there’s two of us,” Shannon said.

Shannon hopes to fill the position by UCOSA’s third Congress on Feb. 8. The interim secretary would serve throughout the remainder of the spring semester.

“In our exec meeting, we brought up maybe adding something to the statutes,” Shannon said, “so it’s a lot easier for the people that come after us if this happens, to kind of look back and see how to do it, how not to do it.”

UCOSA aspirations for the spring

UCOSA Congress also discussed some of their priorities for the spring semester during a meeting on Monday.

The executive branch discussed introducing an “after-hours” program that would extend available times for students to utilize virtual services.

“UCO has been able to do a lot of things virtually that they never thought they could do before,” Shannon said. “There are no very efficient services for students that can’t go during those traditional nine-to-five hours to get any help.

“So, if you have a question about your FAFSA and you can’t get to school on time. . . that just keeps getting pushed back,” Shannon said.

Shannon said UCOSA has received support from Christopher Lynch, the UCO Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success.

The congressional branch will also be responsible for adjusting the number of senator seats allotted to each of the five colleges. 

Similar to the U.S. House of Representatives, each UCO college is allotted a given number of senators based on its total student enrollment.

UCOSA has not been able to redistribute those seats in two years, due to campus closing in spring 2020 for COVID-19, during which time they would usually update their numbers.

UCOSA is also considering options to extend its compliance within the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act, including live-casting UCOSA meetings for students to attend or uploading meetings following their adjournment.

“I don’t know exactly how that works,” Shannon said, “but that’s definitely something that we want to do.”

According to Shannon, running fair UCOSA elections in April is one of his highest concerns.

“One thing that I’d like to see from my side. . . is making sure [elections] are run efficiently,” Shannon said, “making sure it’s fair, it’s smooth.”

UCOSA also has aspirations to encourage UCO in establishing a “green fund” to increase sustainability efforts, Shannon said.

The congress also discussed solutions to provide graduating seniors with an in-person ceremony in May.

UCOSA Congress meets next at 4 p.m. Monday.

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