The UTM SGA has a dedication to serving the needs, thoughts and ideas of students; however, many students do not know how truly beneficial the organization is to the university.
To get to know an organization, one must first meet the leadership. John Abel is the faculty advisor for the student government association, and Rachael Wolters is currently serving as the student body president. It is also vital to know when events are occurring: senate and freshman council meetings are open to any student who wishes to attend. Senate meetings are every other Thursday at 9 p.m. in UC 111. Freshman council meetings are on the same weeks as senate but instead fall on Tuesday night at 9 p.m.
Just as is true for American government, the University of Tennessee at Martin Student Government Association (UTM SGA) is made up of three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. They then have a freshman council as well as six committees: academic affairs, communications, student affairs, multi-cultural affairs, procedures and campus observation. Each of these committees has a leader called a “chair person,” who presides over committee meetings.
The legislative branch is made up of members from each of the five colleges called, “senators.” A college’s senator acts as a voice for the needs and desires of that college. Depending on the college’s size, the number of senators varies. There is also one member of the legislative branch whose title is, “Speaker of the Senate,” and they act as the chair of senate.
Listed below are the number of senators each college has; all of these positions are open during the upcoming elections.
Agriculture and Applied Sciences: 4
Business and Global Affairs: 4
Education, Health, and Behavioral Sciences: 12
Engineering and Natural Sciences: 4
Humanities and Fine Arts: 6
The executive branch consists of the president, the vice president, the secretary general and each of their respective executive assistants. There are also three executive aide positions which belong to the chief of staff, the athletic liaison and the elections commissioner. These positions do not vote on legislation and do not introduce legislation, exceptions to these rules can be found in Article IV of the SGA Constitution. The constitution can be located on the SGA website at http://www.utm.edu/departments/sga/.
The judicial branch of SGA has members including the Chief Justice, Attorney General, Student Defender and a Student Court which consists of four associate justices. The branch together serves to maintain justice when complications occur. Simply put, if everything is going well in SGA and nothing has been misrepresented procedurally, the judicial branch will not be very active. Members of SGA can submit cases if they feel things have not been handled fairly and the student court will help rectify the situation in some way.
The freshman council is a body of freshmen representatives that have been chosen based on an interview and application process. The members of this body have an executive council which includes president, vice president, and secretary general positions. The purpose of freshman council is to give a voice to the freshman class as a whole and to serve as an official liaison linking freshman into SGA.
The six committees of SGA each have a specific scope which they focus their time, legislation and efforts on growing. These scopes can easily be identified by the name of the committee and further specifics can be found on the SGA website. Members of committees are all either senators, freshman council members or otherwise affiliated with SGA; however, that does not mean their meetings are private. The sunshine law states, “the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret,” which means any student may attend any SGA meetings.
The most important and simultaneously complex thing about SGA is legislation. Legislation can range from being as simple and agreeable as changing wording in the SGA constitution, to as complex as consulting on bills about tuition or scheduling reform. Though SGA does not have final say on the more complex issues, their vote, opinions and debate all represent the greater good and greater mindset of the student body. This ability to voice the views of each college is the exact reasoning behind the absolutely vital nature of SGA. Without a body to represent the voice of the greater people, it is virtually impossible for administrators to have a conclusive knowledge of where their students stand.
It should be noted that on more complex issues, such as the recently reported on Soar In Four resolution, that SGA strictly serves to represent the wants of the students. The proposition is then sent to the chancellor and, in this instance, the board of trustees to gain approval.
Below is the basic life cycle of legislation going through SGA:
- All legislation starts out as a thought stemming from some want or need.
- That want or need is then expressed to a member of SGA and it becomes apparent that the bill or resolution now needs a sponsor. (A sponsor is a member of SGA who can propose legislation and who works with the person suggesting the legislation to write it out formally.)
- Once the bill or resolution has a sponsor and has been written about, the sponsor will take it before legislative council for discussion.
- After any necessary discussion is had, the Vice President on legislative council will decide which committee the proposed legislation falls under.
- That committee then has the opportunity to make any necessary adjustments to the legislation and discuss how they feel about it as it relates to their scope of interest.
- The bill or resolution is then sent to freshman council for approval.
- Senate receives the legislation next and the majority of legislation is tabled at its first senate meeting. (To table a bill is to set it aside and give senators a chance to speak with members of their college and gain a better understanding of how the proposed legislation could impact the greater good).
- The bill or resolution is then sent through a second senate meeting where it can be voted on. Depending on the result of the vote determines what happens next.
This bare bones explanation of the process shows that it is in the best interest of students to know their senators, ask questions and attend meetings.
Being a part of the legislative process may seem like a complex task, but the information is very easily accessed on the SGA website and there are always members of SGA willing to answer questions. Students can go vote on Tuesday, April 5. For more information, check out the SGA website http://www.utm.edu/departments/sga/.