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DePaul SGA needs reform, several senators say

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(Max Kleiner / The DePaulia)

(Max Kleiner / The DePaulia)

While members of DePaul’s Student Government Association praised the work they did with the organization at an end of the year banquet last Thursday, the picture was not perfect for everyone as several senators resigned at different points this year or decided not to run for re-election, many of them frustrated with the organization and its leadership.

At least 12 senators resigned before completing their terms and several senators who were eligible to run for positions next year decided against doing so. Though some left SGA to attend to other commitments, many senators cited an uneven distribution of power, a lack of willingness on the part of leadership to collaborate with senators on their initiatives and a lack of transparency in making their decisions.

In his resignation letter, former Senator for Third Year Students Tyler Solorio wrote that he “never operated with a group that applauded themselves for taking care of students, when they genuinely worked against the common good of students.”

Joseph Kerins, a former senator for intercultural awareness, echoed that sentiment in saying that leadership “led us in circles” and contributed to a “culture of silence” regarding student issues while catering to administration interests.

Both were on the Vincentians United ticket this past election, unsuccessfully challenging establishment-backed candidates for president and cabinet.

Michelle An, who was the Senator for Community and Government Relations and also the vice presidential candidate on the VU ticket, based her decision to run against the establishment due to many of these issues.

“(President Matthew von Nida) was actually a pretty good leader, I’m not going to lie,” An said. “(But) I thought that his problem was that he would hear me, but he wouldn’t listen and follow through.”

Joe Arcus, the former Senator for Sustainability, who submitted his resignation once Earth Week was over due to his treacherous commute from the suburbs, also cited this as an issue with the organization this year.

“I felt like my opinion might have been taken into consideration, but it was never a factor,” Arcus said. “So, certainly, we had discussions about these issues, but our discussions never made a difference in the end results of our votes.”

This led to a high frustration level with many in the organization as they said their initiatives would often be stifled if not in line with leadership’s.

“My committee chair Jake Boria definitely supported me in everything I did,” Arcus said. “I felt like, as a team, he and I were able to accomplish a lot of things this year. However, for SGA in total, from the votes that we did hold, I felt that if it didn’t serve the purposes of cabinet, it didn’t necessarily get done.”

When asked for comment, von Nida released a statement that read, “over the last four years, SGA has become a driving force at DePaul University. We have increased our standards significantly and we have made a lot of progress because of it. For one, we have become an official voice in the university governance structure and increased student representation to 43 university boards, committees and task forces.

While I cannot speak to each individual reason why someone may have resigned this year, I can say that being a member of SGA requires hard work and dedication to the student body. Some may underestimate the time commitment and effort that goes into being a member of this organization, and that is completely fine,” von Nida said. “If they choose to pursue their personal ambitions in another manner, it is entirely their choice.”

Former Senator for Second Year Students Natalie Cushman, who decided not to run due to her plans to study abroad next year, said that she agrees that the organization needs to make changes, but she did not endorse the methods of the resigning senators.

“Many dissenters were unwilling to seek compromises, and resigned from the organization simply because they were not able to advance some initiatives that were not particularly affiliated to their role,” she said. “I found these initiatives to stem from self-interest, and I do not believe that resignation was the appropriate channel to solve these issues.”

But an issue that Cushman and everyone who was interviewed for this story did agree on was that reform was needed in the way committees are assigned. Currently, the president has the power to appoint members of the organization to various boards to be the official student representative.

“Executive appointments to committees validate certain senators, while leaving others on the margins,” Cushman said. “Friends of the executives were granted the most prominent committee assignments, and the rest were appointed more minor assignments (if anything). This translates into the one aspect of the organization that I think warrants change, and realistically can be implemented with the recent election of next year’s executive board.”

According to Arcus, “the president and vice president monopolized power on all those committees and chose to represent SGA in every single committee. So, we as senators were not given the opportunity to represent SGA and the student body within the university structure.”

Mike Papanicholas, the former Senator for the College of Business, believes that this is one of the main reasons why so many resigned. While he finished his term, Papanicholas said he considered resigning at certain points and would not have run again even if he were not studying abroad next year.

“I think the reason so many people resigned was because they felt like their voices weren’t being heard and that power wasn’t evenly distributed. I voted for Vanessa. I really do hope she does a better job,” Papanicholas said.

Cadavillo, who handily beat VU’s Luke Kula in last month’s election, served as a committee chair this year as part of von Nida’s cabinet. In a statement, she said the “ultimate goal is to ensure that all members of SGA feel welcome in the organization.”

“I personally believe that’s determined by the type of environment formed through the summer and the beginning of the upcoming year. (Vice President) Ric (Popp) and I hope to continue to foster an inclusive and productive working environment,” she said.

While Cushman believes the organization met its overall goals this year, she was concerned by the lack of input from senators in accomplishing those goals.

“The platform initiatives set forth by the executives in the beginning of the year were fulfilled, and I think they were accomplished well,” Cushman said. “My only concern with this is that senators played a minimal role in the realization of these initiatives, giving them little sense of ownership over SGA’s organizational initiatives.”

For Nicole Been, the former Senator for the College of Education, it was the belief that she could get more done outside SGA than in the senate that led her to not run for re-election.

“I think the biggest thing that frustrated me was that we sat through these meetings and listened to Matthew go through all of his accomplishments for the week and you know, I tried to create an academic advising board, I tried to do a lot of different things, but SGA was so focused on divestment and other referendums that effect a small group of people, that your attention is distracted from your college and more towards the bigger issues,” Been said.

While she opposed many of the initiatives VU took, Been agreed that transparency issues within the organization must be reformed as well, specifically dealing with vacant senate seats.

“As an organization, especially student government, you need to be as transparent as possible,” Been said. “Even if you’re not doing anything bad, it just makes it seem like you’re doing something bad. If you have nothing to hide, then why hide it?”

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DePaul SGA needs reform, several senators say