An exclusive interview with the outgoing SGA president, Franklin Patterson

As the elections have come to a close and finals week approaches, Student Government Association University-wide President Franklin Patterson has his eyes on his graduation and the transition to the next SGA administration. He sat down with The Signal for an exclusive interview, where he detailed the struggles of navigating the university and its administrators.

This is Patterson’s tell-all interview as he exits his position – and Georgia State – once and for all.


Working Behind the Scenes

“We protest behind the scenes. We don’t protest like other students, we have to be strategic,” Patterson said. “Some bridges we cannot afford to burn publicly.”

This behind-the-scenes protesting was defined by Patterson as having students work on SGA’s behalf. But how and when does this occur?

For Patterson, he was forced to hit the ground running. Just three days after he was sworn in, Georgia State drew the ire of many graduates after cutting a graduation ceremony short due to inclement weather. The unfortunate event resulted in statewide media attention and hundreds of angry grads-to-be. 

Six days later, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Sara Rosen announced there would be a rescheduled ceremony. But, according to Patterson, there was much more that took place during that time — and SGA was a critical component to the story.

Patterson conceded he originally thought the event wasn’t his concern. But after seeing the controversy balloon in size, he immediately began work with Atlanta Executive Vice President Ayesha Iqbal on drafting a proposal for Georgia State University President Mark Becker.

When Becker was unavailable to hold a meeting with the two, Patterson staked out the lobby of Centennial Hall, waiting for Becker to leave his office. And when he finally did, Patterson said the president walked right past him.

“President Becker, we have a couple of questions,” Patterson then called out to him.

Upon delivery of SGA’s proposal to reschedule the ceremony, Patterson was met with his first challenge: that it would be “impossible” to do. A student later reached out to Patterson and asked if there was anything she could do, and he told her yes: leak it local news sources and start a protest.

Within days, the new ceremony date was announced.



Working with senior university administration wasn’t the only challenge Patterson faced while president.

Patterson holds firm a belief he said some SGA members are hesitant to recognize that the SGA body is equal in power and importance to its advisers.

No, not academic advisers; Boyd Beckwith, university-wide SGA adviser, and Gail Sutton, Atlanta SGA adviser, both play a role in guiding the SGA from one administration to the next, all while working alongside the Perimeter SGA advisers.

“What we wanted to do was switch it up to where it was more student-run,” Patterson said. “That was the first bridge we had to burn.”

This bridge was burned the summer of 2018, when Patterson realized SGA needed to hold a private meeting — without advisers — to discuss some of the changes they needed to make.

Before he was elected, the consensus to Patterson was that SGA was slowly dying. He believes many students voted for him because he vowed to regain control of SGA and take it back from the university’s authority figures.

Prior to his presidency, most of the emails that addressed SGA and student concerns were coming from advisers. Patterson shifted this to where those emails came from himself instead — part of what he sees as a larger effort to balance the power between student officers and university officials. 

“It is called student government for a reason,” Patterson said. “I think it might be lost that their role is to advise and not to give their opinion.”

Despite this, he acknowledges that the advisers play a valuable role in sharing their perspective on issues that may have arisen in the past, but in the beginning, “there was just way too much influence coming from the advisers.”


Navigating University Administration

When it comes to making changes to the university, there can be quite a lot of bureaucracy. But to navigate all of that red tape, Patterson attributes his success to one person: President Becker.

Regardless of his connection to Becker, he still sees a huge disconnect between administration and students. For example, Patterson recalls a meeting in which a university administrator had no idea Georgia State no longer used OrgSync.

Patterson corrected the administrator, noting that the student body had moved to the Panther Involvement Network, generally known as PIN. Patterson said he then received pushback and a subsequent argument from this administrator who wasn’t aware at all of the change.

He said this is part of a larger problem: that the higher you climb the administrative ladder, the more you’ll hear about how the university continues to make the top of rankings, and the less you’ll hear about individual student problems. 

“When you come in with the reality that some students are still struggling to get their financial aid, they don’t say, ‘Tell me about that, I’ll fix that,’” he said. “They are caught in so much disbelief that they are wrong about their university and that it’s not as great as the people below them are making it seem.”

However, Patterson said he can’t imagine the amount of pressure these administrators are under to succeed. 

“If I worked beneath someone and I was just trying to do my best to keep the noise down and to make sure it’s successful, I wouldn’t tell my boss about all of my problems. I would tell them about my successes,” he said.

But he still finds it frustrating that he must always approach administration first and that they never come to students themselves. He thinks Georgia State needs a big public relations push, as most students don’t even know who President Becker is. (Weeks after this interview with Patterson, Georgia State announced its first podcast, hosted by Becker.) 

“Sometimes you need to know everyone’s boss,” he said.

Becker’s boss is the chancellor of the Board of Regents, and the chancellor’s boss is the governor of Georgia.

“You get to the governor, then you can make something happen,” Patterson said. “Because I think there are some issues that are just universal issues; they are a problem of the system and not a problem of the university.”

But this doesn’t come without its trials as well. From Patterson’s view, depending upon the governor and their desire to invest in higher education, this can change the extent to which students will see change on campus.


Grading SGA’s Performance

Patterson didn’t stop his critique at just the university administration and advisers. He also looked internally, grading SGA’s performance and targeting areas of improvement.

“Overall, I would say that the 89th has been one of the most  — hell, we sparked the flame this year, I’ll say that,” Patterson said.

But how does he rate his administration to its predecessors? For Patterson, the 89th administration gets a “B+,” the 87th a “C-,” and the 86th an “A”  – considering it was the first year after consolidation between Georgia State and Georgia Perimeter.

Patterson gives this year’s Senate a “B-.” As for his own grade, he self-assigned a “B.”

“The way SGA is structured is not to be efficient. It’s to make sure everything makes its way through checks and balances first,” he said. “And because of that, when you want to move quickly on something, all of that momentum you start off with – just getting through the first couple of days – that momentum dies, and by the time it reaches the top, everyone is just tired.”

One of his points of struggle was that the president of the previous administration, Cory Gray, hadn’t left behind a transition binder – a duty required by nearly every position in SGA, including president, as outlined in the constitution

Patterson said that whoever would be taking on his role – who at the time of this interview had not yet been announced, but who we now know to be Jazmin Mejia – would be much more prepared than he was.

“It’s selfish to not want the person after you to be better than you were,” he said.

Although Patterson’s term is coming to a close alongside the rest of the 89th administration, he knows the fight for the student body never ends.

“We knocked down a bunch of walls this year, a bunch of walls people didn’t even know existed,” he said. “It’s going to be up to next year’s administration to make sure they don’t get built back up.”