The University of Georgia Student Government Association Senate will make a pivotal vote this Tuesday on the future of the institution.
Amendment 31-01, authored by Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Senator Patrick Femia, seeks to change the presiding officer of the Senate from the Vice President to a newly-termed President of the Senate popularly elected by SGA Senators.
“I think the Senate lacks respect within SGA, and it lacks respect among university administrators,” Femia said. "The importance of Senate and the role that it does in policymaking should not depend on the administration, and I think that by creating a higher degree of separation, it makes it so that Senate can always be independent [regardless of executive priorities].”
Femia said, despite his amendment, he has worked well with both administrations, including with current Vice President Charlene Marsh.
“I do not think it is a personnel problem. I think it is an infrastructure problem.”
At the Feb. 5 Senate meeting, Femia explained the details. The proposed President of the Senate would have staff members, such as a chief of staff and a press secretary, similar to the way SGA executives operate.
“I think the Senate lacks respect within SGA, and it lacks respect among university administrators."
— Patrick Femia, SGA Senator
The proposed President of the Senate would also take on all responsibilities previously held by the President Pro Tempore, such as communicating vetoes and serving on the Elections Committee. The President would now also chair Legislative Cabinet.
In the amendment, the President Pro Tempore serves as presiding officer of the Senate, and in the event of the President of the Senate’s absence, serves as vice-chair of Legislative Cabinet and chair of the Rules Committee.
The Vice President would relinquish all Senate roles and focus on special projects.
Voices from the past
Katherine Twomey, who most recently served as Attorney General in the 30th SGA administration, said that as a former Senator herself, she understands the change but thinks a constitutional amendment is a step too far. She suggested getting into the statutes and potentially establishing a press secretary to help the President Pro Tempore.
“I know what Patrick is trying to do, trying to develop some Senate leadership and not have to rely on the executive branch,” Twomey said. “ I just think that a constitutional amendment as a first step is a very drastic move.
“To me, it is about allowing Senate to rise to its potential as the only representative body in the Student Government organization and allow Senators to have access to the resources that they need to do their job most effectively."
— Max Harris, former SGA Senator
Twomey said she is also concerned about the large power given to the President of the Senate as part of this proposal, as the nearly permanent decision could potentially “backfire.”
Despite some detractors, Femia said his amendment now has 14 sponsors in the Senate and even some supporters outside of Senate. According to former Senator Max Harris, the autonomy granted by the amendment would make the Senate more effective.
“To me, it is about allowing Senate to rise to its potential as the only representative body in the Student Government organization and allow Senators to have access to the resources that they need to do their job most effectively," Harris said.
Why the change?
Femia said 10 out of 14 other Southeastern Conference schools operate under this model, but the University of South Carolina’s recent transition prompted him to take a more meaningful look, taking into consideration the comparison in size between USC and UGA’s student government bodies.
For former SGA Vice President Roya Naghepour, parity with other SEC schools is not a convincing reason to change SGA’s structure so dramatically. Naghepour appeared at the Feb. 5 Senate meeting in opposition to the amendment.
“I think every SGA is different for a reason, and that this is a bit of an irrelevant argument when discussing the structure of our SGA,” Naghepour said in an email. This is the University of Georgia, and our unique processes have proven successful for the last 30 years.
Naghepour said there are multiple questions to be addressed in the amendment, such as who would break ties in Senate, who would communicate the Senate agenda to the administration, who would connect Senators to the appropriate people on campus for their legislation and even who would book the Senate meeting rooms.
If SGA Senators approve the amendment, the UGA student body will vote to ratify during SGA elections in early March.