For the first time since the 1960s, Kingborough’s Student Government Association (SGA) is the closest it has ever been to restructuring its entire government.
Kingsborough’s student government is unique across CUNY colleges. Since the founding of Kingsborough, student government has been separated into constituencies: Liberal Arts Council, Business Council, Public and Health Council, Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) council and the recently defunct Part Time & Evening Council. A four-council system like this can only be found at Kingsborough, but this year SGA is attempting to trades its distinctiveness for efficiency.
“My personal opinion is that [the four council system] is not very efficient at all,” Assistant Director of Student Life David Prevost said. “The current structure puts up additional steps in the process that hold back the students’ voice or just makes it harder for the students to come to a united decision.”
In the current SGA Constitution, there is no single point-person for Student Government affairs. Instead, the administration must contact each of the councils separately and students are required to follow a system that determines which counsel they belong to. The categorization system was created and is maintained by Student Life. Each year, Student Life publishes a list of majors offered on campus. The majors are then sorted into the councils based on their curriculum. As it stands, Liberal Arts Council has the most constituents and STEM the least.
This means that there are four Student Government presidents, vice presidents, treasurers and secretaries. There are also four separate budgets for each of the councils. Each council gets $5000 per year to maintain their offices and provide outreach for their separate constituents.
The individual councils mostly stick to their own devices, only coming together when a unified decision needs to be made. (Currently, there is no official way to do this.) What becomes the result is some councils being notably more active than others, and minimal communication between the councils.
As imagined, collaborating with all four councils takes lots of planning and patience. Since there is no central way for SGA to decide on problems affecting all students, the responsibility usually falls on the Campus Activities Board (CAB).
CAB is the student-run organisation that plans some of the major events on campus. They host events such as the Halloween party, Throwback Time Machine, and Spring Fest. CAB is meant to function separately from SGA even though it is a part of it, like how the Judicial Branch is a part of the federal government but operates independently of it. However, because CAB comprises mostly of SGA members (currently, you need to be a council representative to be a voting member), CAB and SGA usually overlap.
“It’s hard to have one vision when there’re so many moving parts”, Director of Student Life Maria Patestas said. “Even though the current [four council] system is set up to better represent certain constituents in certain majors, it’s actually failing to do that because the students within the councils can’t work together to do that. There’s also a mixed message on what the purpose of student government is.”
This is not the first time SGA has tried to consolidate. Every few years, a student or group of students begins the process of trying to restructure. However, the hype usually fizzles out when they hear of all the work ahead. This year’s SGA has gone the farthest of any to restructure the government. Despite the councils’ progress, there seems to be a pole down the middle of the collective opinion on the restructure. Heated debates have sprung all over the cluster offices.
“I agree with the restructure,” Vice President of Business Council Mark Vilk said, “I just don’t agree with the way it’s being done. It needs to be a gradual process. I think we should first focus on getting the SGA Constitution out of College Council.”
Others, such as CAB treasurer Darcean Edwards, oppose the restructure for reasons including the fact that those who pushed for the reconstruction, such as the VP of Liberal Arts Council Olalekan Shonowo and the president of the Business Council Christian Reyes, will be graduating this spring, essentially planning the revolution and disappearing when the fighting begins.
Those for the restructure like Shonowo argue that SGA will be taken more seriously with one president instead of four. With one president, the power is no longer diluted and allows SGA to operate more efficiently. It also dispels the idea that the four councils are essentially ‘glorified clubs,’ as Edwards phrased it.
This drama is not confined to SGA offices. Outside of the councils, word is buzzing that the government is trying to consolidate and opinions on the outside are just as divided as those on the inside.
“Yes, student [government] needs to represent the student body, but [SGA] is already one. It’s just that it’s divided into subsections because each student has different needs. If you make it into one big thing, then it’s going to be difficult for all of those needs to be addressed,” student ambassador Cleavon Harris commented.
Despite the naysayers, on January 20, 2017, SGA voted to draft a new constitution with the goal of consolidating the government. Prevost confirmed that this new, consolidated government will comprise of seven executive officers.
Those seven officers would be student government president and five vice presidents. VP positions include the vice president of Student Affairs, Legislative Affairs, Public Relations and Communications, Finance and Administration, and the Campus Activities Board chair, who would work independently of the student government.
“[The new constitution] would ultimately reduce the number of officer positions, because right now there are four separate councils that each have four officers. Under the new structure, there would be seven officers and a total of 12 senators,” Prevost explained. “Those positions would be open to all students on campus as long as they meet the academic and judicial requirements. There would be no major requirements to be involved.” This is starkly different to the old government, which requires SGA officers and members to take a major that falls under the council’s jurisdiction.
The pressure is on for SGA. If the new structure is to be implemented in the fall 2017 semester, the council members and Student Life must work overtime regardless of affiliation. The process involves a battle that begins with getting about 1200-1500 signatures to prove the school wants a vote. SGA members had just about two weeks to get these signatures. Then those signatures go to College Council. To upkeep transparency, two public hearings were held this April where students could voice their concerns and questions.
If SGA secures the petitions in time, an online vote will take place where students vote either for or against the consolidation. That online vote was set to happen in late April. If the vote passes the student body, this information along with the new constitution will be compiled and sent to the Kingsborough President Farley Herzek.
The President can make suggestions where he sees fit. He will then send the full document, along with his suggestions, to the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees must approve the new structure for it to be implemented. That meeting will be in mid-June.
“Because of the timeline and making sure that is fair to students, there is a transition plan. We’ll wait until the fall semester begins to do elections for the new structure,” Prevost said. “That way, all students on campus have a way to be involved in the process.”
“I think we can do it,” Patestas said, “but it’s a matter of having the buy-in from the students. Getting out there and explaining the purpose of the restructure and why they’re actually signing the petition. Signing the petition doesn’t mean you’re in agreement or not. It just means you’re willing to have a vote. I don’t want students to be misinformed. I want them to make informed decisions based on conversations they’ve had with the truth.”