The University of Connecticut has existed for 140 years, and for 127 of those years there has been some form of a representative organization for the student body. The organization that we now know as USG has only existed for 41 years, and I think it’s a good time to examine why there has been so much change in how UConn looks at student representation.
Since 1894, UConn’s student government has been referred to as the Student Organization (1913-20), the Associated Student Government (1921-73), the Federation of Students and Service Organizations (1974-80) and the Undergraduate Student Government (1980-Present). That’s a total of four complete regime changes in the history of the school, along with countless other amendments to the various constitutions.
The point is, there is an existing precedent of large changes for UConn’s student government, and the past year might be a signal that the next one should be ushered in soon.
First off, I would like to state that while this article is coinciding with the governing board and senators being sworn in, this is in no way an opposition to them. My critiques of USG are of its structure, not the people that make it up.
Since 1921, with the birth of the Associated Student Government, UConn’s student representatives have worked in a structure designed to represent the federal government. Put shortly, the legislature is supposed to be where elected representatives of the population create policies to better the general populace, the executive branch is supposed to carry out these policies and the judiciary is supposed to make sure everyone follows the rules.
First off, we have the legislative branch, represented by the student senate. Senators are meant to represent constituencies and advocate for the students, but the honest truth is that the senator who received the most votes in the most recent election earned 1,206 votes in an election open to the entire student body, which is six percent of all undergraduates. That’s the best percentage, with the worst percentage far under one. If U.S. Senate election turnout rates came anywhere close to this low, the republican process would collapse as barely anyone would be represented.
As part of the USG executive branch, there are four committees tasked with creating the bills that eventually get sent to the senate for discussion and to be passed. These committees are open to the public, and anyone can come forward with an idea at any time by joining a committee.
So here’s my question: Why does UConn need a student senate? Committees meet weekly to discuss issues, while the senate meets half as much. The senate is made up of dozens of people who have been elected by a sliver of the student body. By having the senate as a step for all bills to pass through, all proposed changes at the university take longer, and the process can become much more energy-consuming than it needs to be due to the nature of senate meetings. If bills that were voted through committees went directly to the hands of decision-makers instead of having to wait, more would likely get done in the same amount of time.
Having a student government resemble the federal model is a really fun experiment for politically minded people to conduct, but it has no logical purpose in a system with as low a voter turnout as UConn’s. Student advocacy on campus is an amazing thing, and the biggest avenue for advocacy should be fully open for each student to be able to make change without having to worry about whether or not they have the elected ability to vote for it.
I’ll conclude this by saying that my idea of ridding USG of the senate is my idea for reform, and should certainly not be the only one. The real conversation I want to start is one of how to create the best possible student advocacy platform that can help all undergraduates in the most efficient way, because that is what USG should be all about.