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SGA: From the outside, in

To instill leadership experience into budding hopefuls, academic institutions nationwide create microcosms of the public sector. The Student Government Association (SGA) at Georgia State consists of an executive, legislative and judicial branch. Unlike our state and federal institutions, the SGA legislature is unicameral.

SGA members carry the burden of accurately and honestly representing a student body of 30,000-plus from every state in the country and over 150 countries. Seems like a heavy burden to me, but I guess that’s the cost of public service. Way to take one for the team, guys.

It’s easy to find a list of concrete services that SGA offers students: co-sponsorship of events, Scantron sheets for tests, free faxes, etc. Although I have not personally used any of these, I am thankful for the opportunity. These services are not hugely important. The service that is important is lobbying on behalf of the student body.

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The magnitude of their influence in university policy can be evaluated in the extent of their relationship with the University Senate and President Mark Becker. The fact that 11 SGA members serve in the University Senate indicates a direct SGA presence in Georgia State’s governing body. The 11 consist of eight executive officers and three senators. The eligibility of the former I understand, but how these three senators were selected is beyond me.

The one power that the student body wields to enforce integrity and action in SGA is the vote. Presumably, elected officials who fail their electorate will not be re-elected. Realistically, SGA is opaque in the sense that the student body can’t see what happens behind closed doors. Minutes of certain SGA meetings are available online and members revel in their apparent accessibility to any student. The bottom line is, a sheet of summary doesn’t tell the whole story. If you email an elected official, they may reply. But, they will reply as an SGA member, not a student. In other words, they will communicate as a representative of SGA. In this way, they can’t be as forthright as an independent student can.

The principle behind SGA’s democratic process is that SGA positions are open to anyone with exceptions for graduate students and executive candidates. To me, SGA seems like a monolith of suited-up, hyper-involved, PR-savvy smiles. When I walk around Georgia State’s campus, this isn’t exactly the picture I’m presented with. Maybe a necessary discrepancy but nonetheless, unsettling.

Senior Matt Altman ran for Executive Vice President during the Spring 2014 semester. He pursued the position to make SGA a more accessible organization.

“It was because I did not like how SGA made the students feel,” Altman said. “It was an exclusive group running it instead of an inclusive group.
He praised President Lanier Henson despite having reservations about his surrounding colleagues.

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“President Lanier Henson has done an amazing job,” Altman said. “But those around him have kept the organization from truly helping the school and the Georgia State community grow and reach its true potential.”

Any organization with the scope and influence of SGA inevitably faces criticism. Despite this, SGA members deserve respect and their grueling public service is unquestionable.

“Senator Josh Thomas and myself worked on the Governor’s campaign together,” Altman said. “We are both part of the College Republicans. He is doing great things with that organization and for the state of Georgia.”

I don’t necessarily like the governor’s policy, but I’m proud that my fellow students are working on this scale. It speaks highly of them as individuals and of Georgia State.

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