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A president says goodbye: recapping Shane Smith’s 53rd administration

Smith’s administration was marked by campus-wide initiatives, not legislation. | Justin Cross/ The Cougar

Since winning the 2016 Student Government Association election with 58.6 percent of the vote, “Project Red: Better Food. Better Wi-Fi. Better Parking”‘s Shane Smith has led his administration through a national debate, proposed cutting student fee funding to all departments by one percent and reformed the campus dining system.

Smith’s term as president began April 1, a month after the election and exactly a year before his successor is due to take his place; but his involvement in student leadership has spanned nearly his entire college career.

The Cougar sat down with Smith to reflect on the controversies and successes that punctuated his administration — and on what’s to come for SGA.

The Cougar: What is the crown jewel of the 53rd administration?

Shane Smith: I think there are a lot of options. Dining and fall break definitely come to mind, but I might go with parking because it impacts the most number of people, it’s something we campaigned heavily on and we were really excited about during the elections. And there were a lot of people who said we’d never do it. Those three things in particular are really special.

TC: You emphasized action over legislation in your term. What is an example of when this has been implemented?

SS: Any of the things we’ve worked on — parking, dining, break. We actually have a resolution coming through related to fall break, so that’ll be done. The last step of the puzzle is approval by the academic calendar committee. We have taken the project to the provost, who really liked it. We took it to the provost staffer who manages the academic calendar, he really liked it. We are very optimistic, but there’s still that final piece left. We’ve accomplished all these projects and made all these changes, and almost none of them had any legislation. In general, we have emphasized getting work done, not writing a bill.

TC: From your perspective, did you fulfill your campaign promise of better food, better parking, better Wi-Fi?

SS: I do. I think the University IT department is strong, the Wi-Fi is better than it was a year ago, but it’s important to recognize how on top of things they already were. They knew what they were doing, they cared about students, they launched great programs like 24-hour texting about Wi-Fi problems, and at least during the day, they’ll send someone out to your location if they can’t fix it. I’m confident that all three of those are in significantly better shape than they were a year ago.

TC: What lasting effect did #RemoveRohini have on your administration?

SS: It started a discussion around some things that needed to happen — those are very campus-based, but they fit into a national discussion — one that we needed to have and one that a lot of people don’t want to have. But, we have to because there are problems. So it did generate a conversation both within the organization as well as out of the organization, within campus, beyond campus. It also made me better equipped as a leader and even as a person. I think that I learned skills handling that and going through that made us better. I don’t want to repeat it, but you learn from things like that. I don’t reflect on it fondly, but from any mistake, you hope you can learn from it. It was a really hard time actually. It made us better.

TC: What would you have done differently?

SS: Many things, I learn from everything I do. I think one thing that we as SGA have to keep in mind is how short our time is. It’s nice because you get people with new energy in, you make changes frequently, but it’s so easy to get sidetracked with things that don’t matter. I said at the beginning of the year that I wanted to keep a narrow focus — focus hard on some really important things — and we did that. But, you always go back and think, well, ‘what if we hadn’t done this or that?’ You always reevaluate options. There are a million little things I’d do differently I think I’ve learned from. But, all in all, you can’t complain about how you got there.

TC: What was your biggest mistake?

SS: Communicating what we did, we didn’t do a good job of that. We worked really hard and we have quite legitimately accomplished more than any other SGA you’ll see, past or present. I’m proud of the people that worked hard to make that happen, but we didn’t do a good enough job talking about what we did. Some people know what we’ve done, some people have seen the direct impact, some people have been around, and it’s been made and know what’s happening. But, we did not have an effective enough PR push this year. We communicated individual pieces well, but we didn’t communicate our whole accomplishments well until this point. That’s a mixed blessing because part of me says, you should focus more on the actual initiatives and worry less about talking about them, which is what we’ve done.

We’re in wrap up stages, so now we’re talking about what we’ve done. Part of me thinks that’s the right way to do it, but looking back I recognize the value of marketing as you’re going. If we had done a better job of that, more people would know of our impact. But, we’re not in it for the credit, we’re not in it for the recognition.

TC: What surprised you most about being president?

SS: How many little things come up. You spend so much of your time — and I’ve been here most weeks for 40 to 50 hours — dealing with the problems of running a 75 member organization. There are so many problems that come up, from financial or personnel appointments, to a million little random things. So much of your time goes to things you don’t get to choose. I got better at saying ‘No, I want to work on this initiative or this project.’ And finding people who help the organization run better as a whole. I absolutely couldn’t have gotten through the year without the people who supported the administration and the people who have made it possible for me to do my job.

TC: What do you hope to achieve in the time you have left?

SS: There are still pieces that need to fit into place, so there’s dining stuff coming, and that’s something I’ll be working on even after I leave office. I’ll still be the chair of the Food Services Advisory Committee and be working on those initiatives. We’ve begun a lot of the major changes, but changes like that get implemented. I just want to wrap up a lot of these things.

TC: What advice would you give your successor?

SS: Tune things out. You’ve got a job to do and your commitment is to the students and to working on things that improve their lives. You hear a lot of things. People will always criticize, and it’s valuable to listen to everybody. You have to hear it because there’s often valuable things in it from random people that you’ve never met and you can learn a lot from. But you also have to stay focused. There’s a writer that said, “Some people are worth listening to, other people should be white noise in the background of your success.”

Finding the people that will help you be better and listening to those people, and surrounding yourself with people that will make you a better person and a better leader. Stay focused on the things that matter.

Recognition of the people that do the job is important. A lot of the people that do this and have made this year possible, do it without any expectation of credit or thanks. Most of the things we work on will be implemented after we’re gone and we won’t get credit for them. We don’t really care. But, the people that work hard to do it and take the criticism, the team we’ve had and the people — again, I’m just so appreciative.

The year that we’ve had would not have been possible without some people that really made it happen. And they deserve thanks.

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