On Thursday, Feb. 10th, the Student Government Association held one of its first semester meetings. After Speaker of the Atlanta Senate Ira Livnat opened the meeting, Liaison James Wilson attended all the present members.
During the meeting, after the reports from SGA’s committees, Livnat took a moment to commemorate a recent change to a university policy.
In his message, Livnat stated, “For those who attended the Student Life committee about that rule that allowed teachers to remove students from their class. We were able to successfully vote to sunset that clause, so we have strengthened the students’ right to education.”
Once Livnat had given his remarks, Speaker Pro Tempore Bethany McCullough was invited to the stand to announce the seating of four new senators. Antonio Prince and Joelyn Onyekachi will be joining as senators for the College of Arts and Sciences.
Zakeria Goggins and Gabriel Peiayo will be joining as senators for the Robinson College of Business.
Although Peiayo was not present and the SJB could not swear him in, the remaining three senators all took the oath of office.
Associate justice Ikram Awad of the Student Judicial Board gave the oath. The SGA officially gained three new senators to represent the student body upon completion.
After the seating of these new senators, Executive Vice President Queen Mufty-Raimi announced that a new Communications Director would be seated at their next meeting. A new Finance Director is in the process of being selected.
Livnat adjourned the Senate a few minutes later. While relatively routine and uneventful, the meeting took place only minutes after finalizing one of the most critical pieces of legislation signed in recent time.
Bill 92-USO-RQ-01 is “A university-wide Special Order to place a Constitutional Referendum before the student body to establish an SGA Judiciary,” according to the official SGA document. With this new legislation, the SGA wants to take one of the two main functions of the SJB and make it a wholly student-represented process.
Currently, the SJB oversees code of conduct violations done by students. This system allows students to have their peers manage their cases and judge them fairly.
Another function of SJB is to think and make decisions on the legislation and actions coming out of the SGA.
The SJB is on the GSU payroll and reports to the Dean of Students. The SGA saw this as a conflict of interest that needed to be changed.
In an interview with The Signal, Livnat explained this dynamic.
“The issue started when we were relegated to being a registered student organization (RSO). Previously, we were a university department, and so was [the] Student Judicial Board. So when SGA and SJB became RSOs, a whole medley of jurisdictional, constitutional and other types of issues emerged.”
“In our constitutions, they each refer to one another. However, what authority does an RSO have to exert over another RSO? The answer is none, and to do so is just inappropriate.”
After describing this relationship between the SGA and the SJB, Livnat explained why creating a judiciary part of SGA was necessary.
“So now, we have an RSO [SJB] which is really inappropriately connected to the Dean of Students, if it is technically an RSO, also overseeing student government…The university, as an agent of the state, is not allowed to influence in this way any RSO let alone student government.”
Currently, the Dean of Students appointed the justices within the SJB. Thus, any laws that the SGA may want to introduce are interpreted and decided upon by students selected by non-democratically elected officials.
This is especially important in the case of legislation that may negatively impact the university somehow.
Livnat echoed these concerns about the sovereignty of the current judicial board.
“So this is a problem because now [you have] students that are interpreting SGA law that are not held accountable to students. SGA can’t impeach them, can’t remove them, can’t select them.”
“When we did reach out to them to learn more, they stalled, they blocked…when we asked them about their selection criteria, they said, “Oh well, you wouldn’t understand.”
After four weeks of readings and discussion, students finally voted upon the bill on Feb. 10th. 12 voted for the bill, and one abstained from voting.
This new legislation will create a judicial review process that is more representative of the student body.
This will allow the SGA to pass laws without any potential interference from the university. Students can find the full PDF of the legislation on The Signal and SGA websites.
Livnat also spoke about the United Student Organizations, designed to promote collaboration between student organizations at Georgia State. The USO had been the brainchild of Livnat for years and was finalized last semester in the Fall of 2021.
During the interview, Livnat said, “It turns out, and I can’t tell you how I know, and I can’t tell you what I know. But it looks like the USO [will] be needed a lot sooner than we thought it would. So it’s just very good that we have it, and we’re using it.”
With the SGA’s formation of the USO, and this new law creating a more independent judiciary, Georgia State students now have more political power than they ever have.