The ideas expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of The New Courier.

GCC Student Government Participation

By Dennis Austin
May 1, 2019

When my English Professor recommended me for GCC’s Student Government Association last spring, I jumped at the opportunity. Impressed by my background working on political campaigns, he believed I would be a great fit. He was right. I was a good match; however, when I joined, I noticed structural problems that would besiege this student-led organization. I became Senator in Fall 2018 and decided that I would take a back seat in order to better understand how the organization was run. My patience as of late has run out. What I saw was troubling behavior from top SGA leadership. As such, not one important agenda was introduced, leaving us wondering what we were really doing. We did decide to amend our Student Government Constitution, but it didn’t get off the ground until months later. I have discussed these matters not only with my fellow SGA colleagues but also with students at large.

Many students feel that we don’t accomplish anything noteworthy in the Association, and I agree. Our secretary resigned two weeks into their position last fall because they felt we were not working on any important projects. They felt more satisfaction from their activities with a campus club rather than with the Student Government. I took it upon myself to speak with members of this campus who have been here longer than I’ve been alive, and the recurring conclusion in our conversations boils down to what they see as a largely laissez- faire organization. 

They are 100% correct in their observations. Top-tier leadership has lacked ambition, been ineffective, and has left our members with more questions than answers. Recently our meeting regarding the Constitution was scheduled to take place, but when it was canceled, I received no notification. How difficult is it to send out a text message? It’s the optics, I keep telling them. If people don’t see anything coming from you, they will correctly assume you are not handling your duties. Don’t get offended—just start being productive. 

Some administrators feel that the Student Government is too complacent. One in particular remarked to me how they felt SGA lacked the desire to introduce proposals, reach out to staff for co-operation, and stated that our organization appears to have no direction. Again, accurate. Our reputation has fallen amongst the College community, and some students see us as a joke. There are so many issues that our leadership could address on campus, but they don’t. Transportation for students who live on campus has been my personal project. I have met with Housing officials and we are in constant contact and have, in fact, come up with ideas we plan to implement to provide greater options for transportation. Top Student Government leadership has been absent on this. 

I speak with students who feel that SGA does not represent them. As a result, the general opinion of the group is disapproving. While some from SGA might state that students need to speak up more, this is a 50/50 relationship. We, as an organization, are responsible for going into the community and connecting with students, regardless of whether they reach out to us or not. Leadership has not stretched out to bridge the gap with our campus centers, nor have they addressed other pertinent issues. We are supposed to have a meeting with our College President every semester. This almost did not occur. If it wasn’t for me speaking up and showing interest, it probably wouldn’t have. We were scheduled to be present at the annual SUNY Student Assembly Conference held every spring. I expressed interest, but we couldn’t attend as no one else spoke up. I don’t mind being the one who speaks up, but that responsibility should come from those at the top.

While I understand that people are busy with conflicting schedules, I also understand that if someone is unable to properly carry out their duties for whatever reason, they should resign immediately and not leave our organization in limbo. I also believe some of our members feel jaded and unmotivated, and I suspect some see serving on SGA as a resume booster. While that behavior is reprehensible and selfish, people take on from what they see in leadership. If an employee has a boss who is repeatedly late, doesn’t complete projects, and is too relaxed, that attitude will spread. It’s the domino effect that has gripped our organization due to an absence of leadership from top Student Government officials. 

The unfortunate reality is that these issues have long existed before the current regime. I have been told repeatedly that SGA has struggled for years, crippled by disorganization and other woes. The fact that our current leadership has not been able to correct this path is a symbol of failed governance and a strong message that they must move on. This requires an immediate solution. We do not have strong student or faculty support and without those key endorsements, we cease to exist as an organization.

Thankfully, we elect new leadership next fall and I truly hope whoever is elected can properly address our structural weaknesses. I have been asked to run and am unsure at the moment, but if I choose to run and win, I will adopt a principle from a man who I disagree with politically and otherwise. “The Buck stops here,” as Ronald Reagan once said. Accountability, responsibility, and leadership. These principles have been absent from our current leadership. I hope those who will stand atop as leaders next year are aware of those principles.

Dennis is Managing Editor of the Genesee Political Review. This column originally appeared on that website but has been edited for this publication.