UT Student Government

I wish to commend and strongly endorse the opinions expressed by guest columnist Taral Patel in Friday's Daily Texan encouraging students to run for positions in UT Student Government. Long before most of your readers were probably even born, I was an undergraduate at UT in 1983. At that time, we had NO student government at all as it had been abolished. Those of us who believed in the importance of active representation worked hard to successfully restore it. It would be disingenuous to suggest that we did not want to highlight our efforts on our resumes; we definitely did. But that takes nothing away from our sincere efforts to restore an important tool that had been taken away in the late 1970s. Those who are curious can read all about our efforts via your archives, but the bottom line is — as a good friend of mine once opined — "Those who think things can't be any worse demonstrate a profound lack of imagination."

So good luck, be grateful for what you've got, try to improve it, and may the best candidates win!

— John Stephen Taylor, government alumnus, in response to Patel’s Friday column titled “Student Government a great way to effect change at UT.”

UT’s Student Government prides itself on being a voice for students; its mission, according to its website, is “to earnestly represent the interests of students, to preserve and protect the traditions and legends of the University, and to support students and student organizations in their academic and community endeavors.” Recently, however, it appears that Student Government’s leadership is more concerned with its exertion of power and internal conflicts than representing “the interests of students.”

I joined Student Government as a freshman. It was the place where I met my closest friends; it was where I found my place in the University, and most of all it was a place where I felt I could have a positive impact on the student body. As a freshman I was shown the possibilities of SG, what had been done and what could be accomplished with team effort and student support. Naively, I believed that everyone was committed to the same goals and people felt a responsibility to their constituents. During my sophomore year I served as the assistant director for the Federal Relations Agency. I started out my term excited for the ways I could show students how laws in Washington, D.C., affected them and how they could effect change. Early in my term I realized that I was essentially a figurehead, someone to fill a spot. My agency director did not work with me, and the individual who oversaw the agencies never addressed my concerns, as I was continuously told to wait a bit longer. I contemplated stepping down from my position at the end of the semester because of my frustration, but I stayed on until the end of my term in hopes of seeing improvements; there were none.

After the end of my term, during my junior year, I stepped away from SG. I did not want to hate the organization that I loved and had devoted two years of my college career to. Seeing SG from the outside, as a student, has led me to write this. I was able to look at SG from an unaffiliated student’s point of view, and I began to understand why students do not take SG seriously or put much stock in legislation. This year, more than any other year that I’ve been a student, there has been internal fighting and what appears to be a lack of respect among the members, as evidenced most recently by an attempt to remove Chief of Staff Chris Jordan from office. Legislation has been passed that I, as a student, have not seen followed through on. Instead, it appears as though many SG members have forgotten their purpose, to serve the needs of students and to be their voice.

Student Government has the resources, the support and the drive to create real change around campus. That is evident through the programs that have already been accomplished. During my freshman year the PCL became a 24-hour facility during midterms and finals, and recently, the FAC followed suit. There have been programs implemented to assure students safety, such as Sure Walk, an initiative that helps students safely get home from campus, and this year URide has been implemented to give students a safe ride home from downtown. Agencies such as Longhorn Run, State and City Relations and Diversity and Inclusion have reached out to students about issues that greatly affect them, such as voting in local elections and fostering discussion on appropriate Halloween costumes. In the past, legislation has been passed to support undocumented students, to support Sexual Violence Prevention Month and, more recently, to update student IDs so that they qualify as voter IDs. But these pieces of legislation are merely words and suggestions. It is important to show support for different events and groups of students, but one more step needs to be taken to create spaces where students can come together and discuss problems, to learn more about each other. Student Government has the ability to create change and impact students’ lives, but more steps need to be taken to focus on students, to follow through on legislation and sustain and grow already existing programs.

This is not a call to dismantle Student Government, to remove people from office or to single out individuals. This is a plea for student leaders to come together and serve the University and students. Student Government has the ability to impact student life. It is supposed to be the voice of students, an advocate. Student Government should not be just a line on a resume, a tool for getting into law school or a way to gain power. The success of a representative is not in being elected, but in fulfilling his or her platform and making a tangible change on campus. The members of Student Government need to take the time to look at the platforms they ran on, reflect and return next semester with goals that will positively affect the student body and complete the tasks they were elected to do. They need to leave the office and the Legislative Assembly Room, meet their constituents, hear their issues, be seen and be vocal. Student Government can do better, and its members should be held to a higher standard by the student body.

Wellington is a Plan II junior from Dallas. In Student Government, she served as a Longhorn Legislative Aide and Federal Relations assistant director.

Student Government launches donation drive for Moore, Okla. victims

Although Texas and Oklahoma usually meet as rivals on the football field, UT students have set that rivalry aside to help people affected by a tornado that left 24 dead in Moore, Okla.

UT Student Government will be collecting clothing and non-perishable items for victims beginning Thursday. The “Texas Helps Oklahoma Relief Efforts” donation drive will last until next Wednesday. Donations will go to the Salvation Army in Austin.

Where: The Student Government office in room 2.102 of the Student Activity Center; the Multicultural Engagement Center, room 1.102 in the Student Activity Center; and the University Co-op on Guadalupe Street.

When: People can donate in the UTSG office and the MEC Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The University Co-op is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Co-op is open Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.  

What to bring: Clothing, toothbrushes, toothpaste, baby formula, bottles, diapers, hand sanitizer, heavy-duty gloves. Any clothing should be brought in one bag. All other items should be placed in separate bag.

Spread the word on Twitter using the hash tag #TexasHelpsOklahoma or tweet to @UT_SG show your support. 

While Austin officials are taking applications from citizens to draw lines for the city’s single-member districts, UT students have an unparalleled opportunity to represent themselves in Austin’s shift to geographic representation.

The Citizens Redistricting Commission will be drawing new district lines for Austin’s 2014 elections. In accordance with the Proposition 3 Amendment passed in November, one council member will represent each of these 10 districts to ensure accurate representation for each resident, said Linda Curtis, coordinator for Austinites for Geographic Representation. The group is responsible for getting the 10-1 plan passed through the City Council.

One commissioner position will belong to a student currently enrolled at any college in Austin. Requirements for regular commissioner positions, including having voted in three of Austin’s last five general elections, will be waived for the student commissioner position.

Curtis said the existence of the student commissioner position was heavily advocated by UT’s student government while the 10-1 plan was being written.

“UT Student Government was very active in the phase of determining what the measure was going to look like, and they advocated that we have a student seat on the 14-person commission,” Curtis said. “The student population in Austin is so big that we got convinced that it was important. I’m hoping that somebody will pick up the mantle from UT.”

Curtis said the coalition began meeting in February 2011 to discuss a process for creating single-member districts.

“We started talking about if we could come together to agree on a system for single-member districts, because single-member districts has been widely supported for years and years,” Curtis said. “By about October we agreed to do a 10-1 system.”

The Citizens Redistricting Commission will consist of 14 Austin residents, who will be responsible for drawing new district lines for the city. The Applicant Review Panel, an additional three-person entity in the redistricting process, will select the commissioners by narrowing down all applications to a pool of 60 qualified applicants, from which the city auditor will draw eight random names. These eight selected commissioners will appoint the final six commissioners. Applications for both the Applicant Review Panel and the Citizens Redistricting Commission opened Jan. 18 and will close Feb. 22.

City Auditor Kenneth Mory said the commission will be working to ensure accurate representation of Austin’s diverse population.

“The idea is making sure there is a diverse group of commissioners,” Mory said. “One of the things that we’re focusing on [are] unrepresented groups, for example Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans.”

Mory said the city auditor’s office has attempted to reach out to UT student organizations, but is unsure if any students have applied.

“I don’t know if we have received any applications as of yet from students,” Mory said. “We’re hoping that we do. The students who meet the other qualifications can also apply to be just a regular commissioner.”

John Lawler, urban studies senior and advocate of Proposition 3, said it is critical for UT’s current Student Government to take responsibility for getting students engaged and interested in applying for the position.

“It’s important for us to get a lot of students to apply for the position,” Lawler said. “If we don’t have anyone applying, and we don’t have our Student Government taking that bold stance, then I think we’re sending the wrong message to local leaders.”

Electrical engineering professor Bob Metcalfe speaks during a Student Government meeting Tuesday evening.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

UT Student Government is focusing on entrepreneurship on campus, working to create a Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency that will support students interested in innovation.

SG discussed the legislation in its meeting Tuesday night. Electrical engineering professor Bob Metcalfe opened the meeting and spoke about the importance of entrepreneurship. In addition to supporting students, the agency would also connect different entrepreneurship groups across campus. There are currently six different student organizations listed in the registered student organization database that are related to entrepreneurship issues.

Although the assembly debated voting on the agency, it decided to postpone the vote until next week. Josh Gold, student affairs committee chair, said he supported voting Tuesday.

“I think we should pass this,” Gold said. “Bob Metcalfe came today and took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us. It went to the committee. It passed the committee. If anyone wanted to make changes, they could do it now in this meeting.”

Some were concerned that the student assembly had not been given enough time to consider and make suggestions on the legislation. The assembly eventually voted to delay the decision a week, and a vote has been scheduled for next Tuesday night.

SG vice president Wills Brown said he did not think there would be any problem passing legislation supporting the agency next week.

“No one questioned the bill itself; they questioned the process to how it got here,” Brown said, referring to claims that not all of SG was able to offer input on the bill. “So it’s fine. It will pass next week.”

Metcalfe, who is the inventor of the Ethernet, came to Tuesday night’s meeting to advocate for the Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency.

“What we need [the agency] for is to kindle and fuel entrepreneurial interest among the student body,” Metcalfe said. He also said the agency could serve to affect entrepreneurship policy on campus. Metcalfe said while the University has supported entrepreneurship groups, he hopes the support would increase.

“It’s my goal that our entrepreneurship students be as supported and as celebrated as our football players,” Metcalfe said.

The editorial that ran Thursday about single-member districts in Austin titled, “Impeding fair representation” brought attention to an important issue. However, it failed to mention that UT Student Government has had a constant presence at every Charter Revision Committee Meeting for the past three months and has been continuously advocating for the 10-1 plan — the only plan that would have a chance of resulting in a reliable student seat. Another related and major reform being advocated by Austinites for Geographic Representation is the creation of a nonpartisan panel to handle the redistricting process for city council elections. SG has also successfully lobbied for the inclusion of a student in every round of that process in the future. Although it may not be the most ground-breaking or popular of issues, single-member districts will provide a rare opportunity for UT students to have a political stake in the city. We need a voice, and we need one now.