News Student Government

Report card: 60th SGA administration doesn’t make the grade

The beginning of election season for the 61st administration of the Student Government Association marks the closing of the 60th, led by President Benjamin Rizk. | Regan Grant/The Cougar

Editor’s note: While the reporting contained in this article is objective, each grade represents the opinion of The Cougar’s SGA section.

The beginning of election season for the 61st administration of the Student Government Association marks the closing of the 60th, led by President Benjamin Rizk.

The 60th administration was vocal about a variety of issues — namely increasing student involvement with SGA, remedying the reputation of the organization and advocating for issues impacting students.

However, there were many challenges to attaining these goals, specifically low counts for senators and a low amount of direct legislation passed under his administration. 

Student involvement: D+

Increased student involvement was a major priority of the Rizk administration. Many of his executive orders and early initiatives aimed to promote more interaction with the administration’s constituents. 

“I think we’ve been the best administration in years, specifically in terms of involvement,” Rizk said in a previous article published in The Cougar. “I’m very happy with student involvement in University committees, policy decisions and SGA initiatives.”

However, attendance issues in the Senate and delayed town halls quickly became recurring problems that hampered SGA’s ability to attract and retain students.   

Workload, lack of incentives and student’s unfamiliarity with SGA duties also contributed to the now half-empty Senate. Despite regularly appointing members to the Senate at the beginning of the year, the rate of incoming students eventually dwindled toward the middle and end of Rizk’s term.

“I think that part of it is the free rider problem,” former Senator Spiro Hoxha said. “Sometimes people in SGA think that they could slide by and not do any work, and when it gets too much, they’ll just coast. They don’t recognize how much work SGA is.”

For other members of the administration, the low reputation of SGA among students was a major contributor to the lack of interest.

“The reputation of the UH SGA for the past four to five years has been one that is filled with drama, as well as little action,” said Senator Anahi Ortega. “Some students leave the commitments they had to student organizations because of the time it takes up with little to no return.”

Similarly, many of the initiatives meant to increase interest dissolved early in the administration. Events like Walk in the Dark, an annual event that aimed to highlight issues regarding insufficient lighting on campus, saw little turnout.

SGA ambassadors, a program initiated by former Director of Outreach Jordan Underwood, were meant to connect the administration and students. However, shortly after their inauguration, few ambassadors attended Senate meetings and little has been heard of the program since.

While officially sanctioned SGA events with students were infrequent and small-scale, the Rizk administration and those within his party were prominent in activism with other advocacy organizations. The Gala for Gaza and cooperation with other on-campus protests, for example, were events organized by or with members of SGA.

Legislative changes: C-

So far, the Rizk administration has passed around 13 pieces of legislation, nearly double that of the previous presidency but below average compared to the previous five administrations. For comparison, the 55th administration passed 43 bills, and the 56th passed 24. 

Despite their many campaign promises, Rizk’s party, Students Unite, was unable to substantially impact student life via direct legislation and policy. Most of the more significant action to come of the 60th administration revolved around the creation of resolutions that advocated for student needs. 

Of the election code reforms proposed under Rizk, most aimed to reverse the previous administration’s sprawling changes. Among other changes, the 60th administration reverted the voting system to ranked-choice — from first-past-the-post — and significantly decreased campaign spending limits for parties and independent presidential campaigns from $10,000 to $1,200. 

Though the 60th administration may not have produced much actual legislation outside of bureaucratic reforms, the Senate did manage to author several impactful resolutions. Resolutions, while not affecting procedural change to the university, are able to draw attention from students and other organizations and affirm the administration’s opinions.

After the passing of SB 17 — a state law prohibiting diversity, equity and inclusion programs in public universities — Rizk’s administration passed a resolution condemning the removal of DEI programs and expressing solidarity with students who made use of their resources.

An initial celebrated victory of the administration was its resolution to create a task force to  install Wudu stations in specific areas around campus. Wudu stations around campus would provide designated areas for Muslim students to perform a ritual cleansing before prayer.

However, SGA quickly ran into roadblocks in the form of state legislation and University policy. Among other stipulations, UH required the project be funded  by non-state entities  — a complication which was compounded by delayed response from UH Facilities Planning and Construction. Ultimately, the completion of campus Wudu stations will depend on the  incoming SGA administration.

Another celebrated victory during the beginning of Rizk’s term was the resolution to affirm the administration’s increase of the minimum wage for students and staff. 

Campus impact: C

The SGA president is limited in their options to directly impact the campus, but there are other ways for them to use the influence of SGA to influence life on campus. 

While the Senate was rife with vacancies, membership on significant committees such as the Student Fee Advisory Committee and the Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee were occupied and aligned some of their policies with Rizk’s, though the result of their efforts is uncertain.

Another way the Rizk administration impacted campus life was to use SGA as a platform to advocate for social issues not directly related to the University. 

President Rizk and senators in his administration frequently organized and participated in protests and demonstrations on campus advocating for Palestinians in Gaza. The Senate also introduced a bill to create a select committee that would further this advocacy.

The administration also hosted a small mayoral candidate forum that encouraged students to register to vote in the city elections.

Closing thoughts

While Rizk’s presidency was vocal about many issues regarding the University and SGA, his attempts to address them pale in comparison to his proposals and promises. However, this failure to meet promises and expectations is not due to a lack of effort, but the limitations on power that prevent SGA from making their proposed items on their agenda in a swift and effective manner.

[email protected]

Add Comment

Leave a Comment