Senate promotes legislation to delay final drop date, fails to confirm cabinet appointment
Tensions ran high at one of the Student Government Association Senate’s final meetings of the term.
The Senate approved legislation to push back the final date to withdraw from a class by up to three weeks and denied an appointment to the vacant director of public relations position, following a near 45-minute heated discussion at Wednesday night’s meeting.
SGA President Shane Smith appointed pre-business freshman Ann Johnson to the position after the recent resignation of the organization’s former director of public relations, Dena Moghtader. Following questions regarding her ability to handle the job and a review of the qualifications of other applicants, the Senate rejected Johnson’s confirmation.
“It’s disappointing to see her get rejected for reasons that have nothing to do with her qualifications,” Smith said. “I feel like SGA has let the students down tonight.”
Johnson’s plan for the short-term position included increasing awareness of the administration’s accomplishments throughout the past year, which Smith said is something members of the Senate often voice a need for.
Senators and SGA’s graphic design coordinator, Valerie Ayala, raised concerns that Johnson was unprepared for the job at hand, namely the promotion of the organization’s accomplishments and planning of its upcoming banquet.
Multiple senators questioned why a director of public relations was needed, since members of the current PR team and executive board have been compensating for the lost position as of late.
“How do you plan on working with everyone else’s schedule?” Ayala said. “Because it seems like yours is going to be kind of an issue.”
Speaker of the Senate Omar Jamal then stopped Ayala’s line of questioning.
Ayala later said it was her understanding that Johnson was getting herself into something she wasn’t ready for.
“You’re not even questioning her anymore,” Jamal said. “You’re kind of just inserting opinion. That’s not what this is for.”
Smith and SGA Chief of Staff Robert Comer left the Senate Chamber after the final vote fell short of the 2/3 majority required to confirm the appointment. SGA Director of Research Dean Suchy explained the confirmation of a director of public relations will be delayed for two of the administration’s remaining three weeks in office as a result.
“Well, that just means we have to do more work,” Smith said, before exiting the room. “Also, I’m re-nominating her.”
In the first two items of business, the Senate heard a University bill to move the final day to withdraw from a class and an initiative to increase funding to study abroad programs.
Cullen College of Engineering Sen. Jacob Mclaney presented a bill to delay the final withdrawal date of each semester by up to three weeks.
While researching the proposed legislation, the bill’s authors surveyed 150 courses across UH colleges. According to the presentation, they found only 38 percent of courses have 50 percent or more of their grades entered at the time of the current withdrawal date.
“If you don’t know how well you’re doing in a class, you can’t really make a well-informed decision,” Mclaney said. “I have a lot of friends that have dropped a class that I know they could have done well in just because they did bad on the first test and could not take the second test.”
If the final drop date had been pushed back three weeks, the results of the survey showed the number of courses without at least half of their grades in would decrease to 5.33 percent.
The Senate voted to endorse the bill, but other branches of the University’s administration will need to approve it before students will see a later drop date implemented.
Honors College Sen. Hina Uddin presented a draft of the Revised Tier One Learning Abroad Initiative. If passed, the initiative would increase the learning abroad semester fee paid by all students to $4 from $1.
According to the legislation, only 2 percent of students at the University of Houston study abroad. By comparison, an average of 35 percent of students at other Tier One universities participate in learning abroad programs.
In exchange for the increased fee, the initiative states that the Office of Learning Abroad would work to increase the number of students who utilize the program, specifically targeting colleges that have low study abroad rates.
Throughout the meeting, Smith reminded senators to stay on track for the remaining duration of the administration’s term.
“First of all, we’re not done for the year, and I really don’t understand the attitude of wanting to quit three weeks early,” Smith said. “We have things left to do this year. We have outreach to do. We have marketing for our work to do. We have multiple things to do, and I’m not quitting a day early.”
The 53rd Administration, which has been in operation since April 1, will be leaving office in less than three weeks. Only two Senate meetings remain: a regularly scheduled meeting on March 22 and a special meeting Smith said he plans to call on March 29.