Splitting AS: The wrong move

SGA and SPA dilutes the student voice.

Illustration%C2%A0by+David+Rhree%2FTHE+CHIMES
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Splitting AS: The wrong move

Illustration by David Rhree/THE CHIMES

Illustration by David Rhree/THE CHIMES

Illustration by David Rhree/THE CHIMES

Illustration by David Rhree/THE CHIMES

Zurich Lewis, Writer

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Once upon a time, the Associated Students of Biola University was a powerful student government. Its members once wielded great power in overseeing groups and events, allocating funds to them as was necessary with accountability. Chapels, SMU and student events are, today, gone or their own organizations.

Without input from current AS members, the administration suddenly told the AS president and senate that the entire organization would be restructured into SGA and SPA, said AS President Tyler Hormel. The change occurred so student government can solely focus on student advocacy from the President’s Administrative Council Partnerships, rather than event planning. Meanwhile, SPA will focus on putting on events from Outdoor Excursions, to the Eddy, Spirit to Intramurals. This shifts the administrative dynamic as each coordinator will report directly to a member of administration rather than the vice president of events and programming, a student, who then reports to the AS president, also a student.

NOT CONSULTING ABOUT THE SPLIT

Such a split is considered best practice in her research into other private universities’ student governments, said director of student programming and AS advisor Laura Igram-Edwards.

“Students are still running this show … students know what is best for students,” Igram-Edwards said.

Should not that same philosophy apply to the restructuring of Biola’s student government? If students truly run this show, why were they not consulted about whether to split? When asked about this trend of administrative gutting of student government, Igram-Edwards said she does not see what else could change at this point.

Former members of AS, when informed of this decision, expressed deep concerns about the split.

“If it is still part of the student fee, then yes, the senate should ultimately play a part in the budgeting. Otherwise, the student fee falls into the hands of non-students directly,” said former AS Vice-President of Marketing and Communications Richie Gowin.

Keep in mind that although most of the student fee does go towards student activities — AS, SMU, The Chimes, etc. — that budget is not ultimately up to student government. Each of these independent organizations is entitled to a fixed percentage of the revenue from the student fee allocated by administration.

LOSS OF A DEMOCRATIC STRUCTURE

Eric Weaver, former AS president 2008-2009, said he believes the creation of a separate SPA was the wrong decision since students will no longer have a democratic structure to voice their opinions on how the next year should look. He believes that services are an essential part of student government and that this change is a boring and play-it-safe mentality that takes the power out of the hands of the student body as a whole and gives it to a few.

Rebekah Hellerman, former AS chapel board chair 2006-2007, exhorts Biola’s administration to value student autonomy and authority. Hellerman, now the CEO of her own non-profit organization said that AS provided the environment for her to grow and make her own adult business and leadership positions with the light-handed investment of the AS advisor and chaplain.

“It was the skills I learned in AS that helped prepare me for this kind of career. Getting to hire our own staff, reporting to other peers, and managing a budget were experiences that prepared me for the real world in a way that none of my classes did,” Hellerman said.

Cami Cress, former AS senior vice president 2008-2009, agreed with Hellerman.

“Activity coordinators report to university staff instead of peer leaders takes away the aspects of independence, trust, and allowed risk … with having more university staff oversight on events, there will be more handholding and fewer opportunities for students to truly and fully own an event,” Cress said.

All of these students, while disagreeing with and having disappointment about the move, understand that administration truly has the power to decide what happens. As a former commuter senator 2013-2014, I sincerely hope that the culture of Biola students changes to be more engaged with the process of student government and make their voices heard to provide a counterbalance to the power of administration.