At yesterday’s Commission on Student Affairs meeting, heads of the SGA and GSA challenged the student affairs governing system, citing inefficiency and lack of effective student voice as the primary concern. The commission agreed and formed a subcommittee to look into the situation further.
The CSA is an intermediate step between student groups such as the SGA and the University Council, which is composed of faculty, staff and students to creates policy. Virginia Tech is the only university among its peer institutions to have an intermediate commission.
Because of the intermediate step and the way the meetings line up, it takes a minimum of 12 weeks to pass any resolutions without discussion or academic breaks.
“That’s about half the time of my presidency to get one thing done,” said Dustin Dorph, president of the SGA and a senior civil engineering major.
Last year, the only resolution the CSA passed was to downsize its membership.
Dorph told the commission that bringing Greek Life to campus and having co-ed dorms in the 1990s was the result of a more efficient, stronger student voice, and he wants student governance to go back to that.
However, Ed Spencer, retired vice president of student affairs, does not believe this necessarily makes the CSA dysfunctional.
“I think Virginia Tech has made so much progress in some of these areas that I think we now are in a different era. But do I think there’s nothing to be addressed? Of course not,” he said.
Spencer was not at the meeting, but has been involved with the CSA for decades.
Members of the CSA generally agreed with Dorph, though.
“(The CSA) is ineffective, it takes a while,” said Tyler Campbell, the class of 2013 representative and a returning member of the CSA. “I would like to continue this discussion.”
Spencer also believes the CSA could have done more last year.
“I agree in many ways that the CSA has not taken enough advantage of the shared governance system, has not perhaps spoken out as a commission as they could and should,” he said.
Spencer hopes with the membership restructuring, the CSA will be more productive.
Dorph said he is interested in the overall picture of student governance, not just expanding his organization.
“This is not about the SGA and the GSA being on the same level as everyone else, this is about empowering the student voice,” he said.
However, in an earlier interview, Dorph did express concerns about multiple representation, although he did not specifically bring the grievance up at the meeting.
For example, a university chartered student organization, like the LGBTA or the Black Organization Council, has both a seat on the CSA and a seat in the SGA’s House of Representatives.
“Some of these groups have three seats (if they are also represented in University Council) and much more clout than other groups,” said Tyler Arthur, a junior finance major and treasurer of the SGA.
But, Spencer dismissed this argument, saying it is the commission’s collective vote that matters, not the House of Representatives of an individual organization.
“(Former university president James) McComas emphasized community and coming together and consensus. He wanted students sitting on faculty commissions and vice versa,” Spencer said. “He wanted brainstorming to be done at the commission level without discussion hitting the University Council.”
Dorph argues these groups all have representation in the SGA. If there was no CSA and the SGA reported directly to the University Council, the groups would get initiatives to policy makers in about two weeks instead of 12, so it would ultimately benefit them. He told the CSA that the SGA and CSA are both fundamentally the same, and most schools do not have the intermediate entity.
Patty Perillo, vice president of student affairs, said some of other schools she worked at did not have the intermediate commission, and student governments reported directly to policy makers.
Shaimaa Abdahllah, president of the GSA, and Dorph do not have a plan outlined for replacing the current system.
Dorph said he looks forward to working with the subcommittee and moving forward.