Students involved in student government have to face many challenges – from gaining the support of their peers to working with university administrators; student government leaders find themselves working to overcome many obstacles. Student Government Association President Trevor Heaney said the goal of student government is to act as a liaison between the administration, the students, alumni and the surrounding community.
“SGA should do things to bring everyone together,” Heaney said. “It needs to judge and see what it is everyone wants TCU to form into over the next few years.”
In order to be an effective representation of the students, Heaney said, SGA must first hear from them.
One of the best ways for students to voice their opinions is through voting in elections, said Butch Oxendine Jr., executive director of the American Student Government Association.
Voter turnout in campus elections, however, is not that high.
According to ASGA data, 2 percent to 4 percent of U.S. students vote in campus elections. Private schools often see 15 percent to 20 percent voter turnout.
Oxendine said TCU is above average with 22 percent, but 30 percent is often considered to be the sign of a great SGA.
“Voter turnout is an indicator if (the SGA) is well-known and treated with respect,” Oxendine said.
Taylor Russ, student body president at Southern Methodist University, said one-quarter of SMU’s student body, on average, votes in elections.
Despite the voter turnout, Russ said, SGA positions are almost always full.
“Very rarely do people run unopposed,” Russ said.
Mark Laymon, student body president at Baylor University, said despite poor voter turnout, the buildup to the election is active.
“There are often huge campaign teams for the student body officers,” Laymon said.
Citing past state and national college-age voter turnout, Laymon said many students don’t take time to vote no matter what the election.
“If they’re apathetic about national elections, we are fortunate to get 25 percent,” Laymon said.
Communication between student governments and their constituents can be achieved through a variety of means.
Heaney said students can contact any of SGA’s committees or drop by the SGA office to talk with SGA members.
Laymon said he sends out alerts to the student body each week about what student government is doing.
The Student Congress at the University of Texas at Arlington makes a video recording of each meeting and posts the video on its Web site.
A recent trend in university elections is the use of online voting.
Oxendine said online voting, when done correctly, can increase voter turnout.
“The key is to have online voting accompanied by visible polling places,” Oxendine said.
The University of Central Florida, primarily a commuter campus with an enrollment of 46,719, has had great success with elections recently, Oxendine said.
Aside from having multiple candidates in many contested races, UCF has 25 percent voter turnout, far above the average for a public school, Oxendine said.
Another aspect vital to the success of a SGA is its relationship with the administration.
“Administrators (at TCU) have an open-door policy with students regardless of them being in SGA,” said Heaney, who meets with the administration on a regular basis. “Most administrations are not as accessible as TCU’s.”
Larry Markley, SGA adviser at TCU, said the administration is a major factor in the success of student government.
“The administration listens to what the students tell them,” Markley said. “If (students) want to get things done, they can accomplish what they want if they are willing to work towards it.”
SMU’s Russ said the relationship between him and his administration is great.
“I consider the vice president for student affairs a colleague of mine,” Russ said.
Laymon said one goal of Baylor’s student government is to be an advocate for the students during the decision-making process.
“Sometimes policy is made without realizing the impact it will have on students,” Laymon said.
One example of this occurred last semester when Baylor’s calendar committee wanted to take Labor Day as a holiday by taking away one of the study days for students at the end of the fall semester, Laymon said. The student government worked with the administration to have the study day reinstated.
Alan Ross, student body president for the University of North Texas, said the administration will sometimes come to student government leaders and ask them to appoint a student to attend and provide input at meetings.
UNT recently hosted an event called “Really, Let’s Talk” where students were able to ask any questions they had of university President Gretchen Bataille.
“We try to portray a friendly atmosphere so (the students) don’t feel intimidated,” Ross said. “We want them to feel comfortable.”
Oxendine said this and other public events help students to understand what student government is, who is involved and what it is doing.
Student governments should be visible at times other than during elections, Oxendine said.
“Where are they at other times of the year?” Oxendine said. “Some students don’t know the names of their officers.”
Heaney said TCU students are apathetic when it comes to SGA.
“Students are not as interested in the process as they are in the result,” Heaney said.