Empty leadership?

Melissa Dilley

Switch to USG didn’t yield the results some senators expected

An empty table in the Governance Chambers reflects how many students feel about their student government this year. Daniel R. Doherty | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Executive Director Jonathan Bey said he would give the Undergraduate Student Government’s performance a B for this year. But the students they serve couldn’t disagree more. In fact, most students would give USG the only grade lower than failing – a zero.

According to a survey of students from each college on campus done earlier this semester, students had no idea who their USG senator was, much less what they had done during their term in office. Twenty-one students out of 50 didn’t even know what USG was, aside from seeing the acronym at the top of concert ticket stubs and Daily Kent Stater headlines.

However, USG being virtually invisible to the average student isn’t the only problem facing the members. This year’s senators and directors received much scrutiny in the form of inexperience, personal agendas and apathy.

The blind leading the blind

When Bey, who served as a director in Undergraduate Student Senate during the 2007-08 school year, won the position as executive director this year, he was alone in his prior experience with student government. The other 24 students elected had never been involved before, and they were about to embark on a whole new system.

USS made the transformation to USG last fall by adding senators to the board. The purpose of the switch was to add diversity and to more closely follow the traditional structure of student government at Ohio universities.

Aside from scheduling meeting times to accommodate more people, the only problem Bey says he dealt with constantly as a cause of the transformation was senators who weren’t sure what role they should play in their college.

“It was definitely difficult being the only person who had ever been in USS,” he said. “I expected (helping the members) to take up a lot of time, and I knew a lot of my position at first would be devoted to managing.”

However, some feel his time and managing didn’t pay off.

Avery Danage, Kent Interhall Council President, said he has never been a fan of student government and neither has KIC. He said the group attempted to extend an olive branch to USG this year, but he hasn’t noticed a change in their initiatives, even with the addition of senators.

“I haven’t seen anything new out of them,” he said. “All they did was add more members to do nothing but pay out more money. Other student groups like Pride!Kent, (Black United Students) and the Anti-war Committee could be receiving compensation, but instead we’re paying them more money to do the same old thing, basically.”

Senators receive $870 and directors are awarded $1,740 toward their tuition for their time. Each member is required to attend meetings with the deans of his or her college and have weekly office hours, none of which are monitored for attendance.

When it was brought to Bey’s attention that members may not be fulfilling all of their requirements, he agreed, but said there is no way for him to monitor every move they make.

“I wasn’t disappointed with anyone,” Bey said. “While there are some who may not have done as much as they could have, there were others who went beyond and above to represent their college.”

Before students left for winter break, Bey asked senators to write their objectives for the remainder of their term. He said this is probably why, after break, everyone seemed to have a better sense of his or her positions.

However, some students still complain that the representatives aren’t accessible. So when will they finally have it all figured out?

Bey said he was prepared to deal with inexperienced senators, but that there is no reason for the excuses to continue with next year’s representatives.

“I think that after this year and the few mistakes they have made, they should have figured it out,” Bey said.

The “Greek Machine”

Thursday night meetings in the Governance Chambers last, on average, only 30 minutes. But as soon as Bey announces the meeting is adjourned, senators and directors alike flee the scene as if they would rather be anywhere but there.

Maybe it’s because Thursday night in Kent equals frat parties for many Kent State students.

Sorority and fraternity members hold five of the director positions voted on in the March 10 elections. Six other Greeks will take office as senators at tonight’s meeting.

Joe Derkin, senator for residence halls, lost the race for executive director to Scott Sherwood, who is a member of Sigma Chi fraternity. Derkin said he worries some students will be too intimidated to run for a position if they aren’t Greek.

“There are so many people who didn’t run because they didn’t want to go up against the ‘Greek Machine,'” Derkin said. “It is easy for them to get in, and they try to get their friends in. That is why nothing gets done – because they aren’t here for USG, they’re here just so they can say they are in USG.”

Although Danage, who is also in a fraternity, agrees the members of USG don’t do much, he said he thinks it’s ridiculous that people have the idea that a conspiracy is at work.

“I hate when people try to blame everything on this thing they call the ‘Greek Machine,'” he said. “Most fraternities and sororities don’t get along with each other enough in the first place to get together to vote. Even if they did, there are only as many Greeks as there are students living in Koonce Hall.”

Sherwood, the executive director-elect, said he believes students take office because they are involved with organizations, not just Greeks.

“I can see where people are coming from, but once you start pledging, it is a different situation,” Sherwood said. “You have to learn to take charge, and I think Greek organizations breed leaders. That is why I am involved in so many different groups and I have many different networks to vote for me, not just my fraternity.”

In addition to rumors of Greeks hijacking the vote, Bey, a member of Delta Tau Delta, dispels any rumors that they use their USG titles to benefit a particular Greek organization.

“Allocations prohibits funding to specific Greek organizations and we have all of our own fundraisers, so there is really no reason to use USG as a way to benefit your fraternity or sorority,” Bey said.

Derkin, a Kent State rugby team member, claims that while he has seen the “Greek Machine” at work, he admits that if he were in office, he would probably use it to his advantage as well.

“Whoever gets in, they’re going to help their friends out,” he said. “You never know – if I got in, everything might’ve been about rugby.”

Who cares?

Only 8 percent of the undergraduate student body voted in the March 10 elections, with 92 more votes than last year’s turnout of 1,295.

Five of the positions ran unopposed, and some senator positions were won with only 20 votes.

Last week, the appointed senator positions were chosen. However, Bey and Sherwood didn’t have a difficult job because only one of the positions ran opposed. Two candidates for the position of off-campus senator had to be cut.

The election turnout was no surprise, considering the two forums where candidates discussed platforms entertained only friends of candidates, journalists and student organization heads.

Sherwood said he considers the group’s lack of visibility a good thing.

“People know who you are when you have done something wrong,” he said. “Like, if you did something bad, the whole department would know about it, but if things are going smoothly no one pays attention.”

Under new management

When Sherwood leaves his position as director of judicial affairs and takes over the executive director spot tonight, he says he will be dedicated to improving the image and effectiveness of USG.

His first initiative is to get the Web site presentable, which is something he said he will begin working on this summer.

Sherwood said he plans to push his senators to think outside the box to ensure they are engaging students in their colleges and meeting standards.

“I’m going to ask all the senators to be creative and attend as many events as they possibly can,” he said.

Sherwood said he realizes there were some complications with USG’s new format, but he plans to overcome those issues in the next term.

“This year was like a trial period,” he said. “There were new positions with no one to offer any advice about the transition, so senators did whatever they felt was right. You can’t expect anyone to go into their position really knowing what to do, but with this year’s knowledge and feedback of what works and what didn’t, it shouldn’t take anyone long.”

Contact student politics reporter Melissa Dilley at [email protected].