Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series about the legislative student organizations at UT and their transition to new leadership over the next few weeks. The quotes of the incoming leadership came from their applications for their positions.
Student Government President Natalie Butler and Vice President Ashley Baker took office in a new building last spring and under a new set of rules. One year later, the Butler/Baker administration leaves behind their personal imprint on UT, SG and the University administration.
In 2011, Butler/Baker pledged that if elected their administration would connect students and realize possibilities on campus by increasing student involvement and representation at UT. Although the pair’s yearlong term ended April 3, Butler said she and Baker will spend the rest of the semester helping the new president and vice president transition and will finish up work on their platform goals.
“Every year’s priorities are different because those priorities are set by the student body,” Butler said. “I hope none of our big projects we’ve worked so hard on are abandoned.”
Thor Lund, current SG president, said he and vice president Wills Brown have started meeting with administrators and will continue the work from Butler/Baker that lines up with their platform.
Butler/Baker was the first administration to operate under recommendations from the 2010 SG Reform Task Force. This year, the vice president no longer presided as the chair of the assembly or the liaison between the executive and legislative branches. In addition, the task force called for many offices and agencies within SG to be consolidated.
Butler said she felt she and Baker were the guinea pigs for this new structure and admitted they made mistakes at the beginning of their term because they didn’t know how the reform was going to impact them.
This year, Butler/Baker focused on accomplishing increasing student budget representation, outreach and service, safety, health and wellness, transportation and social responsibility. Butler and Baker sat on many committees overseeing issues affecting students on campus, including the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, where Butler supported the proposed 2.6 percent tuition increase over the next two years. Butler said getting a student on the University Budget Council was one of the biggest goals she and Baker accomplished this year. President William Powers Jr. appointed Butler to the council this past year and will recommend students for the position in the future.
“We met with administrators that didn’t like the idea of having a student on the budget committee,” Butler said. “We are making sure students are a stakeholder in that conversation with the reagents.”
SG operated on a $112,820 budget in 2011-2012. Of that, $21,245 went to SG agencies; $14,000 went to operating expenses including a copier, toner and phone lines; $10,400 was set aside for Butler and Baker’s tuition allotment and $26,790 for executive board stipends, which some members refused, among other costs. They also used $4,850 set aside from the 2010 budget for a new website.
Baker said the administration worked hard to improve the experience for student organizations by creating tools like Find a Space, an online database meant to simply the room reservation process. SG also allocated $37,000 to registered student organizations, developed a service event to provide aid after the Central Texas fires and implemented a service partnership with UT Elementary.
John Lawler, former SG presidential candidate and outgoing liberal arts representative, said he was impressed at Butler/Baker’s work increasing parking spaces on campus, getting a student on the University Budget Council and making the SG budget more transparent. However, he said he was disappointed the administration did not address safety and lighting in West Campus more aggressively.
Marc Musick, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts, said he works and interacts with SG through the students they appoint to committees on campus, such as the LGBTQ presidential task force. Musick said student representation is essential and affects decision making at UT, and he recently appointed Butler to a summer orientation task force. “There’s a sense that people who work with SG and Senate are just there to line up their resumes,” Musick said. “I can easily name names of people working hard. The students never see it, all they see are Daily Texan headlines.”
Psychology sophomore Simone Reed said although she is not involved with SG she thinks SG is important because they appoint students to various committees on campus. Reed said although she does use the Find a Space room database this semester, she is not familiar with Butler/Baker or the other work they have done.
“The only reason I know you can even go to a meeting is because a girl who went to them told me there was a meeting,” Reed said. “The vast majority of people know the general idea but don’t know what [SG] is about.”
Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly oversees SG and said the Butler/Baker team was the first executive team she met with on a weekly basis. They were committed to transparency and reaching out, Reagins-Lilly said, and many people do not know the hours of work put in by the executive branch analyzing, pondering and ensuring they are doing the right things for students.
“Each team is different, distinct and unique,” she said. “It’s like a garden. They all grow.”