Q&A: President Barrett looks to new goals as summer closes
After more than 100 days in office, SGA president Cameron Barrett said he has completed all of his campaign goals and is now shifting focus to reducing wage disparity for students working on campus and other issues.
Barrett said wages have not gone up enough for staff, and for students there is too much disparity in pay depending on the job a student works on campus.
The Cougar talked with Barrett about completing his campaign goals, plans for the fall semester and why turnout for the next election is an important indicator of success for him.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
The Cougar: Of your three campaign goals, growing involvement, affordable textbooks and a safer campus for all, how far along are these initiatives?
Cameron Barrett: The goal wasn’t necessarily to grow involvement directly, you know more participation things like that. The theory was if we made it easier to become an RSO or maintain your charter, then it would be easier for those organizations to get students involved.
These RSOs are burdened with these trainings. How do we lighten that burden? That was one of the first things we did with the involvement bill, which included abolishing the SOLAR training requirements, making the diversity training every other year. Things like that to try and ease the burden.
There is also confusion with GetInvolved because it was so cluttered. It was hundreds of organizations that weren’t actually active anymore. I can see frustratingly how that would suck for a student, [thinking] “oh this organization is so cool,” but it hasn’t existed in two years. We made RSO’s report their actual updated contact information regularly or lose their GetInvolved moniker. Because there’s no point being on if you don’t use it.
Pretty much over this entire summer we have been working with the library to implement a [textbook] donation system. They have a course reserve system, which is basically what a textbook exchange is, but they used to not take donations, which didn’t make any sense. Instead of allowing students to donate books, the library would buy them, which was a weird situation. We negotiated with them. They’ll start accepting donations in the fall, which kind of makes permanent the textbook exchange on campus, which is really cool.
We worked with Campus Rec to implement more reporting standards because girls were complaining about basically getting followed and stalked in the Rec Center. You know, these creepy guys would see this girl working out, and then they would follow her out, or uncomfortably stare, things like that. Implementing a ban system, where if you get complained on so many times you’ll get banned from the Rec. You know, the Rec needs to be a safe environment, obviously.
TC: Going into the fall semester, what are some things your administration will now focus on?
Barrett: A lot of it will have to do with wages. One thing I’ve been working with Administration and Finance on is the campus minimum wage. That’s a staff issue, so it’s not a student issue. But, I think it’s really a University issue. We should offer competitive wages for staff because we are a Tier One University.
I’m working with [Administration and Finance] to upgrade their pay scale. The pay scale hasn’t been reviewed in five years, so it’s about time. If you do the math, it’s about a six percent decrease in the real wage of the pay scale given your pay grade. I’m going for a $9 or $10 minimum wage. And interestingly, where it becomes a student issue is there’s no actual regulation on the University scale of student wages.
I work at the athletic center. I make $15 an hour doing that. But then there’s students who work for the student center who make $7.35. It’s a huge disparity. The manager of the games store, he makes $9 an hour as a full-time staff manager. But then the library assistants make $12. There’s a crazy disparity in wages on campus. Hopefully implementing a standard “you have to pay students at least this much,” because I worked at Whataburger in 2012 and made $7.50. How is a student working on campus, at the University of Houston, making $7.35 six years later?
TC: Your administration is doing a lot of work with changing dining on campus. How do you hope to see dining change over the next year? What problems have you seen with dining?
Barrett: I suppose not dining, more food insecurity. With dining specifically, one thing we negotiated with them, they had a program where they would donate meals to [the Urban Experience Program] to give away to students in need. UEP would facilitate this. People would fill out a need application, and they would get the meal cards depending on what their need was. We negotiated with them to double the amount of donations they make to students who are food insecure.
We are in progress to open up a food pantry on campus. Hopefully that will happen in spring. The biggest problem UEP had was they couldn’t get a space for it. One thing that Auxiliary Services, that I worked with them on, that I pointed out was, “You’re losing money on these C-Stores. They don’t make money for you. Why not close it down and allow that space for a food pantry? You lose less money on it anyway.”
Chartwells doesn’t want to operate it. They agreed to close down the C-Store by Taco Cabana, which they admitted most students don’t even know there was a C-Store there, as evident by their sales, to allow space for a food pantry. It seems in that way dining is changing. In terms of the contract itself, I would say Chartwells is doing a pretty good job.
TC: By the end of the spring semester, what do you hope defines your administration?
Barrett: I think the test of the administration will be with the next election, which sounds like a weird answer.
When Shane was elected, he was elected with record voter turnout. I think it was over 10 percent, something like 4,500 students voted. The next year turnout decreased by 20 percent. The year after that, which was my election, voter turnout increased. That was only because of the extreme ground effort my team put in. I’m hoping in this 2019 election, we see huge turnout. I’m hoping that more students kind of realize that SGA matters.
I’m hoping that the 56th administration president comes into office with huge turnout, with a lot of faith of students and with a lot of faith from other campus leaders. None of those things have been present in the last two elections basically, which is unfortunate.
TC: Why is turnout so important?
Barrett: Because I think it’s a proxy for how much students care about SGA. You’re never going to get 80 percent turnout. You’re never going to get an SGA election with 30,000 students voting. It’s never going to happen. I think the national average is like 15 percent. It’s pretty low.
A&M’s elections for instance, very involved campus, their turnout is like 25 percent.
At the same time though, people care a lot about SGA at A&M. It’s the same thing with UT. I think it’s important that our SGA, as important as it is, with the things we’ve been able to get down has shown, that people need to vote in the election. It matters who’s the SGA president. If we get huge turnout, hopefully what that means, people have faith in me regained.
If I’m president, and next year voter turnout decreases by 30 percent, I’m going to feel like I failed to really show students that it matters to vote — despite whoever runs. It’s mostly up to the candidates, but I feel like to get a student interested in voting is kind of on the incumbents.