Power of student government challenged at recent SGA meeting

Questions about pressing campus issues, including DACA, a potential Swinney Recreation Center expansion and the university’s search for a new chancellor spiraled around Tuesday’s Student Government Association (SGA) meeting.

One key question, however, pulsed at the gathering’s center: What is the true role of student government, especially in times of budget cuts, hiring freezes and fluctuating leadership?

President and law student Drew Rogers began the meeting by briefing students on both university and city-wide issues.

Rogers announced an Oct. 24 there will be a Kansas City International Airport ballot initiative meeting for students in the Atterbury Student Success Center. He encouraged members to canvas for a group called A Better KCI.

To the crowd of students in attendance, this signaled the group’s ability to impact local debates outside of university walls.

Yet, it soon became clear that campus topics can be just as controversial.

When Rogers shared Provost and Interim Chancellor Barbara Bichelmeyer will attend an Oct. 9 meeting with SGA executive members and the organization’s Nov. 13 town hall— both closely following her and UM President Mun Choi’s attendance at SGA’s last meeting—senior Rakeem Golden expressed concern.

“These are signs of the times. The fact that [Bichelmeyer] is coming to be in front of us again means she has concerns,” Golden said. “What is happening at UMKC to where our Provost attends so many of these meetings?”

The rest of the night aimed, in part, to answer this pointed question. Officers identified structural changes within the university.

UMKC recently introduced and hired a new position, Vice Provost of Institutional Effectiveness, and progressed their chancellor search by creating a committee.

In fact, Rogers will sit on this committee, alongside nursing major Monica Cossich and psychology graduate student Bryan Fox, to offer a student perspective. The committee’s first meeting is set for Oct. 8.

Despite this push for student input, some students— like School of Dentistry representative Dylan Weber— questioned SGA’s power and influence.

“At the end of the day, if our dean says, ‘We’re having hiring freezes, but we’re going to get that figured out,’ that doesn’t do anything six months down the line,” Weber said.

Rogers presented a powerful rebuttal.

“You can put forth a motion that this council pass a recommendation to condemn or remove your dean,” Rogers stated. “And that would be taken very seriously.”

Other matters Rogers reminded students to take seriously included a possible Swinney Recreation Center expansion.

Currently, the council must consider if it will put forth money for research and renovation consultations. If this expansion goes forward, students and administration will share in the cost, which has not yet been estimated.

The meeting wrapped up with an emotional speech by Maria Franco, a DREAMer and engineering student, who urged SGA leaders and all students in attendance to support DACA with a petition.

At the meeting’s end, questions still lingered about SGA’s role and the organization’s effectiveness so far, this year.

Golden expressed his concern about the council’s lack of questions for Bichelmeyer, along with the attitude of students who want to get out of meetings early.

“This is the most quiet and mellow group I’ve ever seen, to the point that I’m afraid,” Golden said of SGA’s current leadership.

In contrast, Rogers praised the group’s ability to address such challenging topics.

“That got a little heavy there,” he reflected on the meeting. “It always does, and always should.”

 

krl7b2@mail.umkc.edu

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