SG

Former SG leaders sign open letter in opposition to BDS resolution

Seventeen former Student Government leaders signed a letter addressed to the current SG executive board and Assembly, urging them to oppose a divestment resolution set to be voted on Tuesday night.

The resolution calls for the University of Texas Investment Management Company to divest from corporations that authors said “facilitate the oppression of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel.”

The former leaders, who served SG terms ranging as far back as 1983, said SG should not associate with the boycott-divestment-sanctioning – known as BDS – movement upon which the resolution is based.  

"The BDS movement is rooted in a philosophy that rejects Israel’s very existence," the letter read. "While reasonable people can debate the merits and faults of Israel's specific policies, supporting BDS necessarily means supporting a philosophy that advocates the destruction of Israel and its inhabitants. We do not think the Student Government Assembly should align itself with such a philosophy."

Seven of the eight most recent SG presidents and vice presidents signed the letter, including last term's president and vice president, Kori Rady and Taylor Strickland.

The leaders also said Texas has kept close ties with Israel, regarding similarities in agricultural and policing policies.

"There is much that the state of Texas and Israel share, and the BDS movement attempts to undermine that relationship," the letter read.

The Assembly will vote on the resolution Tuesday night.

To read more about the debate surrounding the resolution, click here. 

To read about the resolution as it stands, before it heads to the Assembly for a vote tonight, click here. 

Read the letter here:

Former SG Leaders in Opposition to BDS and AR-3

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Jon Stewart is hilarious. But I wouldn't want him to be president of the United States.

Similarly, Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu, the Texas Travesty candidates for Student Government president and vice president, have been entertaining for us all, yet they should not be elected to lead SG. SG is the official voice of students. If you want your voice to be taken seriously, vote not for joke candidates but for leaders who will listen to you and represent you well. These leaders are Braydon Jones and Kimia Dargahi.

Though I am not involved in SG, I am a student leader who has seen SG work from the outside. I have seen SG succeed, and I have seen SG fail. For example, SG is the reason the Student Activity Center exists. SG has created study spaces accessible to students at all hours. SG allows student leaders to advocate on behalf of students from all backgrounds to the Capitol, UT System Board of Regents and the city of Austin.

Despite these accomplishments, SG is at times disconnected from the student body. Jones saw this disconnect and launched a campaign for president with a very open and sincere theme of "Let's Talk Texas" to involve the rest of the student body. This campaign is the first I have seen in SG to emphasize student input as the top priority. Furthermore, the platform points Jones and his running mate, Dargahi, have gathered include important issues such as increasing student safety, quality of campus life, and building bridges across communities.

The primary role of the SG president is to navigate between the students, faculty, System chancellor and regents, University president, alumni and all other involved parties to convey student concerns and wishes. Next year is pivotal, with an Austin mayor, Texas governor and UT System chancellor all with less than one year of experience in their positions. Jones is the only candidate who has already established the essential relationships with administrators, faculty and staff. These relationships are crucial for an incoming SG president, who needs to effectively advocate for students during this time of extreme change.

That is the reality of how SG operates on this campus. The portrayal of Rotnofsky and Mandalapu as reformists who are going to make SG relevant to all is false advertising. It is impossible to reform a system unless you’ve been there — as an insider — to see that system fail and succeed. The candidate who is elected to lead SG needs to have experience within the system and knowledge of how the University works. Jones is that candidate.

Jones has the experience within SG, serving previously as chief of staff for Horacio Villarreal and currently as speaker of the Assembly. He knows how to work within the system while also understanding the issues and necessary changes to improve student life on campus. Dargahi brings a different perspective, with a brief stint in SG as an agency director and a wide variety of outside experience through other organizations. This team would not need a semester to learn the ropes. Jones’ wide experience, paired with Dargahi’s fresh perspective, would catalyze the changes that we want to see on our campus.   

Many people have latched onto what they believe are ideological inconsistencies in the campaign’s rhetoric. The most notable of these is campus carry, on which Jones’ stance has been misrepresented. When the Texas Senate introduced SB 11, a bill enabling campus carry, a group of students, including myself, grew concerned and reached out to Jones to help us voice our opposition formally through SG. This resulted in AR 30 being passed in SG, urging lawmakers to consider student safety by opposing campus carry, a sentiment echoed by Chancellor William McRaven.

AR 30 could not have succeeded without Jones’ support. Jones and Dargahi are the only candidates who have the experience, relationships and understanding necessary to work with the Texas Legislature to effectively lobby for the student body.

I have seen a lot of student leaders in my time at this University, and no one is more passionate about the University, about making a difference at UT and about reaching out to the many student groups here than Jones and Dargahi. If you care about the future of our University and want our student voice to be taken seriously, vote for Jones and Dargahi on Wednesday and Thursday at utexasvote.org.

Kruijs is a Plan II and public health senior from The Woodlands. She is not officially involved in the Jones-Dargahi campaign.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Student Government officials are in the process of institutionalizing Safe Ride at UT, but the program must become easier for students with disabilities to use, SG President Kori Rady said.

Safe Ride uses uRide, an Austin-based car service startup, to pick up students from the downtown area and drop them off in West Campus or East Riverside. Safe Ride operates between 11:59 p.m. and 3 a.m. on Thursday–Saturday at no charge for students.

Rady said the program, which is in its pilot year, has reached almost 4,000 people since its implementation in September 2014.

Rady said Safe Ride primarily did not have ADA-accessible cars at the outset because of a lack of resources to fund ADA-accessible cars in full.

“It’s definitely difficult to see a program like Safe Ride, when it’s starting out, having [an ADA] car [available] — it obviously costs more,” Rady said. “It’s going to be a required aspect.”

Safe Ride’s funding doubled from $26,000 in the fall semester, to a $52,000 budget this spring. A portion of that money funds the use uRide vehicles: eight Thursday nights and 10 both Friday and Saturday nights, according to Rady.

In order to make vehicles more ADA accessible, more funding will be required, said Erin Gleim, SG assistant agency director for Students with Disabilities.

“Funding has been requested to make [Safe Ride] accessible or more accessible,” Gleim said.

The cost or method of implementation has not been agreed upon yet, according to Gleim. However, Rady said he has reached out to groups for donations to ensure the program’s longevity.

Making Safe Ride more ADA accessible might mean mobilizing a University vehicle for the program or paying to use an already accessible vehicle, Gleim said.

“There’s kind of different options they’re looking into,” Gleim said. “It’s a big program, so it’s a lot of different things to pull in.”

Rady said he thinks the program has been well-received, and he said he has not heard complaints regarding a lack of accessibility.

“Plenty of students have had an incredible response to it, and, with the hopeful institutionalizing of the program, we’ll be able to fully encompass everyone and every UT student, including those with the ADA aspects,” Rady said.

Dylan Murray, a biology junior who uses a wheelchair, said he has not personally used Safe Ride, but he said he could see it being a problem for other students with disabilities.

“I’ve been in instances where I’ll go to do something, and I’ll get there and can’t,” Murray said. “They definitely should have [made it more accessible] before they initiated [the program].”

Correction: This story has been edited significantly since its original publication. The Safe Ride program requires that students with disabilities give advance notification that they need a ride, and therefore does comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the original article, Student Government President Kori Rady stated that Safe Ride was not yet ADA compliant.

Student Government representatives Cameron Crane and Tanner Long discuss SG’s resolution calling for changes to the city’s sound ordinance at a meeting Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government assembly unanimously gave its final approval to a resolution calling for alterations to the city sound ordinance in its current state.

After officials from the Austin police and fire departments informed students the ordinance would be more strictly enforced on the West Campus party scene, SG and the Interfraternity Council began working with City Council member Chris Riley to revise the ordinance. At a City Council meeting Oct. 2, the Council passed a resolution allowing the city to begin looking at defining a “private party” in the city code.

Robert Svoboda, co-director of SG’s City Relations agency, said SG and IFC will meet again with Riley to work on the issue.

“That’s just really an opportunity for all stakeholders who are involved in that issue to come and talk,” Svoboda said.

Austin mayoral candidate Steve Adler spoke at the meeting about the cost of living and transportation. Adler presented his platform items and answered questions from SG members. Adler said the cost of living in Austin is too high for the average person to live in the city.

“We’re bringing in more jobs than anyone else, but 60 percent of the jobs we’re bringing in don’t pay minimum wage,” Adler said. “A city can’t sustain itself like that.”

Adler said high living costs will make living in Austin difficult for students after they graduate. He said city officials must preserve the affordable housing options currently available.

“I think what we need to do is to ensure that the housing stock that we have that is reasonably priced, or accessible, doesn’t get torn down or remodeled into things that cost more,” Adler said. 

Adler said he supports an increase in staggered work hours in the downtown area to reduce traffic and is also in favor of mass transit lanes along I-35 to reduce traffic.

“When people find themselves sitting in traffic for an hour when they’re on I-35, and they’re watching the buses, some of those people are going to get out of those cars and into the buses,” Adler said.

Also at the meeting, SG President Kori Rady updated the assembly on the progress of SG’s efforts to open the Flawn Academic Center on a 24/7 schedule, create a centralized student tailgate and extend Thanksgiving break.

According to Rady, the FAC could open on a 24/7 basis as soon as Nov. 3. Rady also announced he has presented the idea of a centralized student tailgate to Men’s Athletic Director Steve Patterson and Steve Hank, chief revenue officer for athletics. He said that there could be a contract for the tailgate as early as next semester.

“It seems that athletics is being pretty receptive to the idea, and we’re looking for a housing option on campus for the student tailgate,” Rady said.

While the Faculty Council approved a proposal in September to extend Thanksgiving break to start the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Rady said the SG Executive Committee and the Faculty Council are reexamining the initial proposal to determine the best day to make up the extra day of Thanksgiving break.

Student Government and a group of administrators will reexamine SG’s governing documents Tuesday because of the Office of Legal Affairs’ decision to not allow the release of interview notes in early August.

The decision was a response to the SG court’s request in May for the release of interview notes from internal and external positions. SG assembly speaker Braydon Jones said SG was planning to revise its governing documents over the summer, but because SG drew significant attention regarding the interview notes, the documents are being examined in greater detail for compliance with the Office of Dean of Students’ policy.

Chris Jordan, SG chief of staff, said SG must make sure to follow the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and other University rules.

“We’re subject, of course, to higher laws than the Student Government rules,” Jordan said. “But I think [it] was good in that it sparked a discussion about what our rules actually say and how we can reformat them.” 

SG President Kori Rady said the discussion of whether interview notes should be released never occurred because no one had requested them in recent years until May. Jones, who worked as chief of staff during the 2013-2014 school year, said interview notes were taken and stored by the chief of staff in the past. 

“I oversaw that each member of our executive board who sat in an interview completed a rubric,” Jones said in an email. “I kept each rubric on file in my office; and once my term was completed this past April, I shredded each document. I am not sure if other Chief of Staffs kept their interview notes on file; however, I do know they were never released.”

When the Office of Legal Affairs determined releasing the interview notes would violate FERPA, Jordan said SG executives were not told what area of the law releasing the notes violated.

“All we were told was that the notes would constitute a FERPA violation and were therefore not producible in an unaltered state,” Jordan said. 

According to Jeffery Graves, associate vice president of the Office of Legal Affairs, any student document or record that contains personal information not released in the student directory is a violation of FERPA. 

“FERPA does not distinguish between any sorts of records,” Graves said. “There’s nothing about GPA, transcripts and academic records. It protects all records when they are directly related to a student, and they are maintained by a institution.”

Jordan said SG rules are currently being examined for other contradictions between SG and the Office of Dean of Students’ regulations. 

“[Our governing document] was written by students, for students,” Jordan said. “I think it would be a different animal if it were written by someone with a legal background, but it was written for students, so naturally there’s some contradictions in there.”

Jones said SG rules have been flawed for the last few years. 

“I believe that the circumstances over the last few months have made it clear that there are some problems with the current wording of our governing documents,” Jones said. “This is an exciting time for the assembly, as we will be able to make this serious adjustment as we are restructuring our current rules.”

Several months into the new SG term, there are still positions empty. Jordan said a time line for when final decisions will be made and how the interview process will change is still uncertain.

“I think this clarity will definitely help Student Government in the coming year to understand when transparency is important and when it is overshadowed by the legal aspect of how we exist in the university structure,” Jordan said. 

In a ruling Wednesday, the Student Government Judicial Court invalidated the external and internal appointments made by the new SG administration on April 29, stating that the SG executive board violated the organization's governing rules as they apply to disclosing applicant information.

The appointments, which were confirmed by the SG general assembly last month, will need to be reconfirmed when SG meets for the first time in the fall semester. According to SG Chief Justice Philip Wiseman, the executive board may nominate the same people to the internal and external positions, or choose new candidates for the positions.

The ruling said “should members of the executive branch choose to nominate future appointments for any internal or external positions, the Chief of Staff must make all documentation publicly available…”

Despite the lack of interview notes prior to the April 29 meeting, the assembly confirmed all internal and external positions except for the Texas Student Media Board of Operating Trustees.

The ruling was made after Andrew Wilson, outgoing Liberal Arts Council president, filed a petition for review regarding the process of nominating students to positions for Spirit and Traditions Council chair, Faculty Council Student Life Committee chair and any other position in which a nominee who was nominated to a position that was not their first choice.

The executive board addressed the concerns for the nomination of the three committees by deciding to leave the positions unfilled. However, Wilson still asked that the court consider all other positions.

According to Wilson, the process was not transparent because the executive board failed to publicly release interview questions, responses and additional notes of potential nominees.

“The only way to [be transparent] is by releasing notes from the interviews, which the chief of staff has failed to do,” Wilson said.

Despite a court ruling in early April asking the executive board to release all interview notes before the April 29 meeting, Chief of Staff Chris Jordan said the board decided not to do so in order to protect information that students disclosed in interviews.

According to the court’s opinion, these concerns “cannot overcome public interests of combating corruption and ensuring transparency…”

SG President Kori Rady said he stands by protecting the information in the interview notes, but hopes to increase communication with the assembly.

“There were some things that were pretty intimate during the interviews,” Rady said. “That was our concern and that was why the interview notes were not released prior to appointment.”

Rady said he hopes to work with the assembly to make sure privacy concerns are addressed while interviewing candidates.

While Student Government members hope to make student ID cards an eligible form of voter identification, some students have raised concerns about what this would mean for undocumented students. 

Adam Sacks, a College of Natural Sciences representative, said he is concerned that if student ID cards become a valid form of voter ID, the cards might visibly show the students’ citizenship status.

“I want to be sure there would be nothing that can incriminate the undocumented students on our campus,” Sacks said.

SG President Kori Rady said he hopes the necessary information would all be stored inside the IDs, so if a student were undocumented, it would not be visible on the card.

“We wouldn’t alienate anyone through this entire process,” Rady said. “From our initial understanding, [student ID cards] wouldn’t look any different from the way they do now.”

Bradley Englert, chief information officer of Information Technology Services, said if legislators were to amend the voter ID law to allow this, which would be necessary in order to make any changes to the current voter ID system, a student’s date of birth would have to be added to the ID.

“Some people might not be comfortable with that,” Englert said. “Some of our students aren’t U.S. citizens, so we’d also have to figure out how to convey that.”

On Tuesday, the SG Assembly unanimously passed resolution AR 6: In Support of Student Identification Cards from Institutes of Higher Education Meeting Voter Requirements in the State of Texas.

Some acceptable forms of voter identification in Texas include a Texas driver’s license, a U.S. passport, a U.S. citizenship certificate or a concealed handgun license. Currently, student ID cards are not an eligible form of voter identification in Texas.

Chris Jordan, SG chief of staff and author of the legislation, said the current voter ID system contributes to low student turnout in elections.

“Not having a stable form of ID for students who are out of state and don’t live in the Austin area, it’s really hard for them to be adequately represented,” Jordan said. “I think this is something that’s not only incredibly tangible but also incredibly helpful.”

Jordan said he has received support from administrators and students and would continue researching states with strict laws like Texas that allow the use of college IDs. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states have passed laws requiring voters to show some form of identification at polls, and the remaining 19 states use other methods to verify a voter’s identity.

Virginia will implement new voter ID laws in July that will make a student ID issued by any institute of higher learning in the state an acceptable form of identification. Thirteen states currently allow voters to use a student ID card issued by a school within the state, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Texas is really unique that this law is so strict,” Jordan said.

Internal and external Student Government positions were not officially sworn in by the SG Judicial Court on Tuesday night because of controversies surrounding external
appointments nominations.

All internal positions were confirmed by the assembly during Tuesday’s meeting but won’t be officially sworn in until the court issues a decision next week, according to SG Chief Justice Philip Wiseman. As of press time, no external positions were confirmed.

Andrew Wilson, outgoing president of the Liberal Arts Council, submitted a petition claiming three external positions did not have applications filed for them and asked that all interview notes be made public.

Originally, executive board members were nominated in three positions: SG President Kori Rady as the chair of the Spirit and Traditions Council, Internal Financial Director Rachel Miller as the chair of Faculty Council Student Life Committee and Vice President Taylor Strickland as Faculty Council Rec Sports Committee chair. 

According to Chris Jordan, SG chief of staff, using an executive board member in an unfilled position is not an uncommon practice and allows the position to be filled by the Faculty Council’s deadline, so the position can be opened up again in the summer.

Wilson’s petition requested the court issue an injunction on the confirmations of the external nominations. 

The SG Judicial Court voted 3-2 against issuing a preliminary injunction motion. Wiseman said a court hearing will be scheduled next week.

“Confirmation hearings tonight are not the last step,” Wiseman said. “Making those public rulings will ultimately determine if the process was legitimate and followed appropriately.”

Last week, the court issued an opinion advising that the executive board publicize applications and interview transcripts 48 hours before this week’s agenda was released to the assembly.

The SG internal rules state the chief of staff must make public all applications for all appointees. Jordan said he released all the applications, but did not do so before the set deadline. As a result, the names were not allowed to be put on the agenda.

“For transparency purposes, I didn’t have all the interviews done 48 hours before the meeting,” Jordan said. 

Wilson said, without interview notes, the assembly would not be able to effectively evaluate the appointments.

“You can increase the legitimacy of the representative nature of SG by reopening the applications to other students, and they can fill them out over the summer, rather than just filing students in those positions who didn’t even fill out an application or probably even do an interview,” Wilson said.

Jordan said although Wilson has raised these concerns, he has not received a request from any member of the assembly for interview notes.

“The feeling of the assembly is that it’s kind of irrelevant,” Jordan said. “The internal rules says all interview questions and answers shall be made public by the staff, but it does not mention transcripts.”

A Student Government resolution calling for the resignation of UT System Regent Wallace Hall was taken off the SG agenda Tuesday because many students who originally sponsored the legislation felt that it prematurely accused Hall of being guilty. 

The legislation, AR 4: “Calling for the Resignation of Regent Wallace Hall,” was originally written by chief of staff Chris Jordan, finance and English junior, and administrative director Nosa Aimuyo, government junior, according to liberal arts representative Sergio Cavazos, the first sponsor of the legislation. Cavazos said he decided to pull his sponsorship after realizing he would not be able to help re-word the legislation. According to Cavazos, seven out of the eight assembly members who had originally sponsored the resolution pulled their names.

“I think all of us as Student Government representatives value due process,” Cavazos said. “We were not willing to support a resolution that specifically condemned Wallace Hall for his actions based on an investigative report which has not been proven in a court of law. … I voiced my concerns in several different conversations with several different members of the executive board and the none of the legislation changed. That’s where I drew the line and said progress isn’t being made and I can’t support it.”

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has investigated Hall since July 2013 for potentially overstepping his duties as a regent. Earlier this month, the final report from the special counsel to the committee indicated Hall likely committed impeachable offenses during his time as regent. 

Cavazos said he would consider supporting the legislation again if it were reworded.

Although the resolution was tabled, the SG executive board signed a letter calling for Hall’s resignation. 

SG President Kori Rady said he thinks Hall’s actions have disrupted the daily operations of the University.

Seven former student leaders, including former Senate presidents, issued a similar letter Wednesday. 

“It is time to end the ‘witch hunt’ against President Powers and UT-Austin,” the letter said. “It is time you step down from your position as regent.”

Despite concerns from several assembly members about the lack of diversity among the appointed Student Government executive board, the assembly voted to confirm all appointed students to their positions Tuesday.

Chris Jordan was confirmed to the chief of staff position by a vote of 26-0-6. Jordan, a finance, English and philosophy junior, said he would make sure to reach out to all student organizations on campus to promote diversity. Jordan has been in Student Government for two-and-a-half years.

“We will be active in making sure we’re at as many meetings as possible,” Jordan said.

SG President Kori Rady said he selected Jordan for the position because of his experience in a variety of organizations.

“It was really impressive how thoroughly he understands every platform point,” Rady said.

Radio-television-film senior Nathan Waters was approved unanimously as communications director by the assembly.

Waters said he plans to update the SG website, create a smartphone application for students and work on PR for the organization. Waters is a new member to SG.

Economics junior Rachel Miller was approved as internal financial director by unanimous consent. Miller has been a Longhorn Legislative Aide, a member of the SG finance committee and the director of alumni relations.

Corporate communications junior Kyle Mason was approved as external financial director by unanimous consent.

Mason said he wants to create a way to hold University-wide representatives and other members in SG accountable. Mason was a University-wide representative from Spring 2013 to Spring 2014.

Government junior Nosa Aimuyo was also approved as administrative director by unanimous consent. Aimuyo said he has been a Longhorn Legislative Aide and a liberal arts representative in SG.

Aimuyo said he hopes to expand the position of administrative director by holding representatives accountable and helping members complete their initiatives.

“In the past, compared to the other executive board positions, the administrative director has been fairly inactive,” Aimuyo said. “Student Government should always be looking to expand and grow.”

Arjun Mocherla, Plan II and public health sophomore, and Kenzie Spaniol, nutritional science junior,were also confirmed as President’s Student Advisory Council, known as PSAC.

“I think that while PSAC does a great job of informing President Powers on the issues, we can do a much better job,” Mocherla said. “I’m hoping that by expanding PSAC’s job description, members can be more productive in bringing issues they want to discuss with President Powers.”