Following a semester many have characterized as unproductive due to poor participation and weak leadership, members of the Student Association executive board and the SA Assembly are pointing fingers to where they believe the damage was done and looking the revive the flagging representative body.
According to SA President Christian Oliver, the assembly's weakness has "been a plague in the last three or four years." Oliver cited the poor leadership of previous assembly speakers as one of the root causes of its deficiencies.
"You need someone to rally the troops and unfortunately, that doesn't fall on the executive board's hands," said Oliver. "[The Assembly] is supposed to be independent from us."
The assembly's problems came to a head two weeks ago when Robinson Iglesias, then speaker of the assembly, resigned from his position citing a desire to research Argentina's political and economic crisis.
Assemblyman Lorenzo Guzman, who expressed an interest in running for speaker at the assembly meeting held Monday, Feb. 11, addressed what he calls Iglesias' ineffectiveness. Guzman characterized Iglesias as interested in the post only to increase his chances of being elected SA president in the future. Last year, Iglesias lost the SA presidential race to Oliver.
"[Iglesias] was very active on campus, I'll give him that much, but I don't feel he put any effort into the assembly," said Guzman.
Iglesias admitted he was not as active a leader as he could have been because, he said, SA Vice President Joshua Korman told him the assembly had no significant input on the student government and that his duty as speaker was "just to sit back."
"[Korman] is like the biggest hypocrite I know because he said 'your job is just to lay back' as he usually does and 'let things flow,'" Iglesias said.
Korman denied making such comments, saying he told Iglesias the position of speaker "does not dictate itself" and that Iglesias would have to do more than what the assembly's constitution requires to be effective. The vice president added that he "wouldn't believe anything Robinson said" and compared their relationship to a failed marriage.
The former speaker said the assembly was "designed to be weak" and accused the executive board of sabotaging his efforts to make the legislative body more effective. Oliver refuted this notion on the basis that the assembly is intended to remain an autonomous body.
"It's designed to be a [system of] checks and balances," said Oliver. "The thought that we would be strong-arming him is ridiculous because the way it's designed is for him to have the power to put us in check, not for us to put him in check."
Iglesias further described an incident in which Administrative Director Patricia Kujawa, a member of SA's professional staff, allegedly told him he could not increase the frequency of scheduled assembly meetings.
"[Kujawa] told me 'you can't have all these meetings, the kids are going to get bored, the kids are going to leave,'" said Iglesias. "She was giving me dirty looks and everything."
Oliver said all meetings must be publicized in a student publication five days before the meeting could take place. The only condition that would have prompted Kujawa to advise against Iglesias holding a meeting is if it was to be scheduled less than five days before it could be publicized, he added.
"This is all utterly ridiculous," said Oliver. "Robinson was the speaker of the assembly, he has all the powers invested in him by our constitution. No matter what I or Pat said to him would have absolutely any credence on his ability to perform whatever it was he wanted to perform."
"If there is any blame or he's shifting any blame I think he would have to look at himself," the president added.
Guzman disapproved of the current system of electing speakers during the second meeting of the fall semester - after several weeks have elapsed - and suggested electing a speaker at the end of the spring semester as a way of ensuring effective leadership.
"When the fall semester starts, we should have a speaker, someone who can conduct business immediately and we have someone already in control," he said.
In the past several years, poor attendance and a low number of people joining the body have often hindered the assembly's ability to legislate, a fact Guzman described as "a little disturbing."
"This is the one branch of student government that absolutely anyone could join to voice their opinions and have a say and not many people do," he said.
Both Oliver and Korman believe these problems are a symptom of general student apathy and that it often takes major campus issues to provide an incentive for students to raise their voice within the assembly.
"A weak assembly almost always goes hand in hand with general student apathy," said Korman. "That's the sort of thing we're concerned about. We don't think students are apathetic and we don't want students to be perceived as that ... we want them to know [the assembly] is a resource they have."
"The assembly is what you make of it," said Oliver. "We hired several people off of last year's assembly ... but it's not something where you can go and automatically make it into different levels of student government. You have to be assertive and you have to be aggressive, but it's a great way to get involved."