Students not fairly represented at UCF
Published: Sunday, April 1, 2012
Updated: Sunday, April 1, 2012 15:04
On Tuesday, March 27, top university officials convened for their customary open forum to hear the grievances of UCF students. If any point should be ringing in the ears of UCF President John C. Hitt and his colleagues, it is that an increasing number of students are upset about the lack of representation on campus.
The majority of the concerns arose from graduate students upset with the failure of the overwhelmingly undergraduate Student Government Association to establish a parallel body for the unique concerns of graduates. Amidst these concerns was the prognosis from one SGA senator as to what he believes is the “childish” nature of the current SGA and the need for the administration to step in.
As a former UCF student senator and chairman, I am well acquainted with the SGA’s inability to adequately represent the student body and retain talented leaders. However, unlike the aforementioned senator, it is my belief that this inability is not due to an inherent quality of UCF’s student population, but rather in that there are no meaningful avenues for students to be involved in shaping decisions made at UCF. As a result, I have seen many capable individuals who were forced to find other avenues for changing campus policy.
The problems with the state of student representation in the university are well beyond the scope available in this piece, but can be briefly summarized as follows.
First, despite SGA being formally in charge of the nearly $20 million dollar Activity and Service Fee budget, virtually all allocations must be approved by the A&SF Business Office. Furthermore, like all decisions made by the SGA, each can be overturned initially by Vice President Maribeth Ehasz, though Hitt has the final say.
Ultimately, the only real representation available to students is through the SGA president’s position on the university’s Board of Trustees. Even this tenuous foothold is underscored by the fact that the SGA president is only one of 13 members of the board; six of which are selected by the governor, five by the Florida Board of Governors, and the remaining position is allocated to the chair of the UCF Faculty Senate. This arrangement allows for 15 percent of the board’s composition to be split between faculty and students, while the remaining 85 percent is reserved for individuals who often represent outside interests and have high-level political connections.
It is certainly true that the university is a complex organization whose structures cannot be arbitrarily changed overnight. It is also true that some university structures, such as the BOT, are regulated at the state level. However, I strongly challenge the conclusion that increased representation for non-administrative actors is too difficult to be worth it. There are many issues in relation to university land use, business contracts, parking, etc., all of which are within the authority of the university and in which all members of the university should be represented – not merely by the current means of indirect influence through purchasing decisions, resolutions and membership in focus groups, but by active participation by all sectors of the UCF community.
The hallmark of a free society is one in which citizens are represented in the issues which are important in their lives. Students are obviously a vital segment of the university population, and university policy plays a major role in our lives. It is only fair that we be equal partners in guiding it. Students, as well as faculty and campus workers, deserve real representation as opposed to “influence” that can be ignored. It is time to show that we are ready to lead ourselves.