USG misleadership hurts student activism and campus politics

Is the University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government steering the student body in the wrong direction. Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus.

There is a repeated trend in the University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government: misleadership of the student body. Often working mainly on behalf of the school administration, this misleadership consistently exploits imagery of representation and advocacy, lowering the political consciousness of the student body and frustrating meaningful change. 

Last week, in a matter of days, USG widely publicized plans to #SaveUConn from what the administration claimed were historic budget cuts which it would need to raise undergraduate tuition by $3000 annually to cover. Although a closer look revealed a thoroughly foreknown end of COVID-19 ARPA funding, the UConn administration was comfortable threatening their “pack” with tuition increases — as though they were not already ongoing — and USG was comfortable uncritically forwarding this manipulation.  

The campaign, in spite of being internally planned within USG since Jan. 21, was announced only one week before the event by USG right alongside the UConn administration. A few days before the hearings, flyers and social media campaigns lit up campus, revealing the hidden organizing power and resources of student government on the first issue it felt warranted these efforts. In such a short time, few students discovered the inconsistencies between the administration’s claims and the reality. 

For this day, USG allocated $37,000 of student fees. By comparison, USG spent only $173,000 of $450,000 in 2022 on their Husky Market program — which usually attempts to redirect some student fees as prepaid cards to purchase food — replaced by one pop-up pantry last semester. The $37,000 last week were put towards bussing students to the capital and back before the budget hearing at 5 p.m., distributing 800 t-shirts and organizing an on-campus “party” with the Intramural Fraternal Council, supposedly sanctioned by the administration as a “reward” for students who advocated for budget increases in Hartford. 

The same week, the undergraduate student trustee, the one person supposed to represent undergraduates on the real policy making body at our school, resigned from their position with no announcement made by the administration or USG. The Daily Campus was the first organization to publish on the fact that there is, even if temporarily, no longer any undergraduate representation in UConn’s policy. Thus, the board of trustees met yesterday, Feb. 22, without any undergraduate representation.  

In summer 2022, former undergraduate Tier-III Praxis (formerly UConn PIRG) was disbanded by the board for the stated reason that their disaffiliation with the Public Interest Research Group nullified the campus group’s purpose. All of their $125,000 yearly funding was transferred to USG, who decided not to reopen Praxis as a USG subcommittee but instead close the group and finally dismiss their student employees, absorbing the budgetary surplus.  

No statement was made about this decision, nor was feedback collected from the student body, despite the fact that board of trustee surveys indicated 85% of students wished for Praxis to continue being a Tier-III organization and 70% would be willing to continue paying a waivable $5 fee for that purpose. USG completed the unpopular liquidation of only one of six student trustee organizations at UConn and fired dozens of student workers for great organizational financial gain. There was no transparency on how USG would spend these new funds, nor are they petitioning for a fee decrease this year.  

In Fall 2021, USG organized the Rally for a Peaceful Planet. This event advocated for adopting a federal program limiting police militarization — while ignoring the UConn Police Department’s $18 million budget and massive weapon stockpile — declaring racism a public health crisis although it already had been so declared by the state and for admitting more refugees to Connecticut while ignoring UConn’s military-industrial links which directly cause refugee crises to begin with. After physically shaking hands with administrators and state representatives at their “rally,” USG allowed these groups to continue happily profiting from military-industrial and fossil fuel partnerships, and USG had little involvement in any other student protests during the year. 

Students see the repeated patterns clearly. Time and time again, USG does public relations for the administration under the auspices of student advocacy while failing to communicate basic information to their constituents or solicit any feedback after being elected. While branding itself as an advocacy organization, USG takes resources away from student activist groups around campus and does not contribute to solving the most pressing issues. 

It doesn’t help that USG has not — and will not — take accountability for any of their above mistakes, either because they do not notice them or they realize they will be supported by $2.3 million in student fees from the board of trustees regardless. Their Tuesday Instagram post, especially the comment section, lacks an ounce of accountability regarding their many mistakes throughout #SaveUConn, instead insisting to frustrated students that USG is “not pro-university” and that their grievances with the organization are invalid.   

Although the responsibility student fees take within USG for satisfying basic needs is problematic, under these circumstances it is good to fund student organizations. Initiatives like Husky Market and “finals care packages” evidently help some students when they are appropriately funded. But harmless initiatives are intertwined with harmful admin-centric messaging USG often pushes, and the organization claiming to speak for the student body is actually deeply misleading.  

During the mid 1970s, USG’s immediate predecessor was prevented from hiring legal counsel to negotiate with the administration in exchange for one undergraduate student representative on the board of trustees. Since then, USG has taken a much more conciliatory and friendly role with the administration in exchange for a wildly excessive Tier-III fund balance: $2.3 million annually. 

Especially given an upcoming student election on Feb. 28 — debates and other programming for which have been timidly advertised — students should recognize how USG’s misleadership is not due to personal characteristics of individual student leaders but structural characteristics of an organization captured by the administration long ago. Students should demand better of their elected representatives and build independent undergraduate political movements capable of holding the administration accountable and supporting student activist movements.  

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