Opinion: USG needs to improve transparency and student relations

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Ray Paoletta is a junior political science major. Contact him [email protected]

Ray Paoletta

Does anyone know what Kent State Undergraduate Student Government does? Do students feel that USG betters their college experience? I did not know the functions of USG either. I researched Kent State’s Undergraduate Student Government recently and attended its March 18th public meeting. Between the meeting, the most recent USG election and other research I have done, I think USG continues to lack in transparency. Furthermore, USG does not do enough to represent the students that elect them.

I will start with the issue of transparency with USG. During the 2014-2015 academic year, USG had a $193,000 budget. This budget is posted on their website. My major concern with the budgeted money is that expenditures are not posted. For example, $25,000 was budgeted for the bike share program, an increase of $15,000 from the previous year, but USG does not specify what the increase was for and where the money went. Furthermore, the budget from 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 both budget $13,000 for conference and travel, but neither elaborates on what conferences and travel that covers. Those are just two examples.

With an operating budget of nearly $200,000, the students who elect them have the right to know exactly how the money is spent. I understand that not all budgeted money is spent, but USG should be responsible for posting an itemized list of expenditures after each year showing how much money was spent, how it was spent, what is left over and where the leftover money goes at the end of the budgeted year. Posting expenditures shows a step toward better transparency. If the state of Ohio can post their checkbook online, so can USG.

Moving on from the budget, USG needs to do a better job reaching out to students, the same students who elect the members of USG. USG should be a voice of the students. Instead, when I attended USG’s public meeting, the 14 members present treated their constituents as if they were nuisances.

I attended the meeting with two of my classmates who asked a couple questions about the budget. The attitude of the majority of the USG members who responded to the questions they were asked surprised me. The members did not appear to be happy to assist their constituents in finding the answers to their concerns. Should it not be the number one duty of an elected body to address the concerns of its constituents? Of course, with about a 4 percent voter turnout in USG elections, it might be difficult to remember that its peers elect USG members. 

I would like to end with one last point. Prior to the election, the Kent Stater conducted interviews with all of the candidates. Surprisingly, in these published interviews, only three candidates even mentioned student debt and college costs, an issue most would agree is a huge problem facing students. At a university that plans to increase housing rates and meal plan rates, that maintains a costly credit hour cap and that, as recently as last year, increased tuition by the maximum 2 percent, USG should be a perfect entity to be a forceful voice for the students demanding the university to take steps in making college affordable. 

USG should be an accountable and transparent representative of the undergraduate students at Kent State. Currently, USG lacks in that area. If a poll were conducted asking students what the function of USG is and how USG affects their college experience, I would guess that most students would answer that they do not know exactly what USG does and would say USG has done little to better their college experience. It is time for USG to act like the elected body expected by its constituents.

Ray Paoletta is a junior political science major. Contact him at [email protected].