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Committee to conduct first ever SGA review

Next week the SGA will undergo its first ever institutional review to measure its performance and discover how it can better meet the needs of students.

To carry out the review, SGA Cabinet has formed a seven member committee made up of staff, students and off-campus experts. The review will take place from Sunday, Feb. 16 through Tuesday, Feb. 18. On Monday, the committee will meet with a variety of constituencies, including an open campus session from 6 to 6:50 p.m. in JRC 101.

Photo by Joanna Silverman
Photo by Joanna Silverman

The committee members are Assistant Treasurer Nancy Combs, Assistant Dean and Director of Post-Graduate Transitions Doug Cutchins ’93, Vice President for Student Affairs Houston Dougharty, Jamaland Senator Misha Rindisbacher ’16, bEast Senator Matt Grygo ’16, Macalester College Dean of Students Jim Hoppe and Central College Student Government President Miranda Wehde.

When forming the committee, Cabinet made sure to choose staff members with relevant SGA experience and senators who expressed an interest in the review process. The two senators were also partially chosen based on their status as second-years who will be able to help implement the results of the review in future years.

The off-campus members will be able to offer a broader range of opinions as people who have experience with student governments that function differently than at Grinnell.

“In other schools they may do things differently,” Grygo said, “and they may see areas in which we’re doing something well and other areas which we can really improve on.”

The impetus for the review came last semester from a suggestion by former RLC Dan Hirsch, said SGA President Thomas Neil ’14.

“Given the issues last year and given the way the new cabinet was trying to, I think, give a fresh perspective to a lot of questions within the SGA, [we decided] it would be a good time to do something like this and to bring in not only people on campus who are concerned and interested with SGA, but also people from other campuses who think about it, who can give us a different perspective,” Neil said.

Under the guidance of Neil and Administrative Coordinator Cynthia Amezcua ’14, SGA prepared a self-study document which painted a picture of the way the organization views itself.

“We really took a lot of time asking all the members of cabinet and surveying our organization and figuring out what people thought about their roles, what people thought about the way we budgeted, our organization, its structure, where they felt they were supported, where they felt they weren’t supported,” Neil said.

The self-study document focused on three areas of concern: organization and structure, finances and accountability and student engagement.

One element raised by the self-study is the position structure of SGA. Neil hopes to further explore the number of SGA positions, their organization and the allocation of resources within those positions.

Neil also questioned whether electing senators by cluster is an effective way to represent students at Campus Council, especially given low election turnout.

“Is the way students are represented right now the most effective?” he said.

In general, SGA’s accountability to the student body could be improved, Neil said.

“How often are we reporting?” he said. “How can we get students more aware of our activities?”

“There are things we’ll toss around, like the judicial branch, like what a feasible judicial branch looks like,” he said in reference to an amendment proposed last semester.

It will be the job of the review committee to see how outside perspectives of SGA match up with the SGA’s opinions of itself.

“It’s our opportunity as an external group to sit down with all the constituents of SGA, and the people in SGA itself, and compare the self-assessment with what reality is,” Dougharty said.

Whatever the review discovers, Dougharty stressed that the emphasis is on improvement.

“It’s all about how can this organization, in this case SGA, be more effective and better meet the needs of the people it’s here to serve,” he said.

The committee will create a report based on their review, which they hope to release around the end of March.

“I think we’re shooting for end of spring break. [Then we will] put it together and present it to Campus Council in the following week or so,” Rindisbacher said.

Both Rindisbacher and Grygo expressed interest in getting student opinions of how SGA can improve.

“I think after last year’s whole fiasco in Cabinet, it’s good to have something like this to make it known what people’s frustrations are,” Rindisbacher said. “I think it’s good to know what the student body thinks and good to know how SGA could improve.”

Rindisbacher said he wants to understand what he sees as high levels of student apathy and low turnout in elections.

“I hope that we’ll see something consistent throughout, so we can figure out what the issue is and fix it,” he said.

Grygo agreed that the committee is interested in levels of student engagement. Relatively few students take advantage of opportunities to make their concerns heard by SGA, such as Campus Council meetings. By meeting with student groups, the review committee hopes to give interested students a chance to respond.

“I’m just interested in what the students have to say about SGA, especially the unheard voice, students that don’t usually show up to SGA meetings,” Grygo said.

Dougharty praised Cabinet for undertaking the review.

“I think this is not only a really smart thing for SGA to decide to do, but also a really brave thing … In my 30 years of working on seven different college campuses, it’s the first time I’ve ever known an SGA to do such a formal both internal and external review,” he said. “And I think it makes all sorts of sense.”

While the review process is not practical every year, due to the time commitment it requires, Neil said this year’s results will be valuable to future governments, especially next year’s.

And after a few years it may be time for another review.

“Hopefully a group three, five years down the line has the same thought and can do it,” he said.


Review Schedule for February 17, 2014

9 – 9:50 a.m.: Administrator Session

11 – 11:50 a.m.: Concerts/ACE/Films/KDIC/Freesound and campus entertainment groups

12 – 12:30 p.m.: Cabinet Part 1

12:30 – 1:15 p.m.: Cabinet Part 2

2 – 2:50 p.m.: First Years

3 – 3:50 p.m.: Senators Past & Present

4 – 4:50 p.m.: Stifund/Reform/Service/Student Programming Committees

5 – 5:50 p.m.: Multicultural and Student Group Leaders

6 – 6:50 p.m.: Open Campus Session (JRC 101)

7 – 7:50 p.m.: Concerned Students-at-large

8 – 8:50 p.m.: Athletes (JRC 101)

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