Braydon Jones

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.

Student Government Executive Alliance candidates Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu filed a resolution to SG on Friday supporting the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus.
Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu, candidates in the Student Government Executive Alliance runoff, filed a resolution to SG on Friday that would support the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus.

Braydon Jones, who is running against Rotnofsky for the presidency, was one of the resolution’s three co-sponsors.

“We might be one of the first candidates to author a resolution that will go to Assembly,” Mandalapu said. “We want to leave our mark, regardless of whether we win.”

The statue’s removal was one of Rotnofsky-Mandalapu’s original platform points. Rotnofsky said the team did not want to wait until after the election to start lobbying for the statue’s removal.

“To put him on a pedestal, quite literally, is wrong,” Rotnofsky said.

The statue’s presence on campus has sparked controversy in the past because of Davis’ status as a Confederate leader. Last weekend, the statue was temporarily defaced with the word “CHUMP” written on the statue’s base in blue chalk.   

“Whereas, Jefferson Davis argued vociferously that the institutions of American slavery were beneficial; and ... whereas, The University of Texas at Austin as a public institution of the State of Texas that represents a diverse student population should not condone or promote Jefferson Davis’ values that are offensive to the student body … be it further resolved, the University of Texas at Austin Student Government fully endorses the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from campus,” the resolution read.  

Rotnofsky and Mandalapu, who wrote the resolution with Chris Gilman, editor-in-chief of the Texas Travesty, and Plan II senior Ciaran Dean-Jones, also cited historical precedent for altering campus symbols that “do not align with the values and ideals of the student body.”

In 2010, at the request of UT President William Powers Jr., the UT System Board of Regents unanimously voted to rename Simkins Residence Hall to Creekside Residence Hall. The hall was originally named for William Simkins, a UT law professor and Confederate solider who was also a Florida Ku Klux Klan leader.

After three pages of factually-based arguments in favor of the statue’s removal, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu also cited former Nickelodeon show “Drake and Josh.”

“Be it resolved, that Drake and Josh was one of Nickelodeon’s most celebrated TV shows…they would have never supported a Jefferson Davis statue on the program,” they wrote.

Jones, who is currently speaker of the SG Assembly, said the resolution ties into his campaign, although it was not a part of his and his running mate Kimia Dargahi’s official platform.  

“I think it’s a perfect example of what our campaign stands for,” Jones said. “I think it’s a great example of listening to students. Now we’re going to look into what students want. … I’m looking forward to the conversation.”

Dargahi is not currently in SG but served as the federal relations agency director in 2013. Neither Rotnofsky nor Mandalapu are currently involved in SG. Any University student is allowed to author a resolution.

The resolution will be presented to the SG Assembly on Tuesday and sent to a committee after. If the committee approves the resolution, the Assembly will vote on the resolution in the coming weeks.   

“With all the talk that has been going on, with all the attention that [Xavier and Rohit] brought to this issue, I think this is a great time,” Jones said.

Men's athletic director Steve Patterson discusses issues facing the athletics department at a Student Government meeting Tuesday evening. 

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

Tuesday, at the first Student Government meeting of the school year,  the SG assembly confirmed internal and external positions and men’s athletic director Steve Patterson discussed issues facing the athletics department.

After the floor was opened for questions, SG assembly members asked Patterson about the Frank Erwin Center’s future and the compensation of college athletes.

While no exact demolition date is set for the Erwin Center, Patterson said when the time comes for the center to close to make way for the future Dell Medical School expansion, he would like to see an arena close to campus available to use.

“I think that there are a lot of parties that need to be in conversations that come to the table to address financing issues, location issues, design issues, parking and transportation issues and different conditions with users,” Patterson said.

Patterson also said he is against the compensation of University athletes outside their student benefits.

“If you take the benefits that student athletes get — room and board, tuition, mentoring, tutoring, the basic student benefits — then the value of a student athlete, a football player for instance, is about $69,000 a year … which would put you in the top third of household incomes in the United States,” Patterson said. 

Later in the meeting, the executive board appointed students to internal and external positions. The nominations were voided in May after the SG court requested interview notes from the position interview process. SG assembly speaker Braydon Jones said the nominees made last spring were included on the agenda and were appointed during the meeting.

Jones said he gave assembly members three-and-a-half weeks to voice any concerns about the previous appointments.

“I personally did not receive any concerns regarding the appointments,” Jones said. “The assembly board and I met earlier this afternoon and decided we would move forward with the applications and the appointments of the previously nominated names.”

During the meeting, SG President Kori Rady said Safe Ride — his initiative to provide safe and free transportation to students from downtown after going out on the weekends — will start Thursday.

“It’s something we have been working on for a long time and something that our University lacks,” Rady said.

Rady also said the UT Android app contract is complete and awaiting signatures from the student developers before its release.

Student government assembly speaker Braydon Jones led the review over SG’s governing document at the Student Activity Center on Tuesday morning. SG representatives noted which rules they wanted to keep and alter for the new year.  

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Student Government representatives and advisers, including representatives from the Office of the Dean of Students, reviewed the tentative SG governing document at a meeting Tuesday.

SG assembly speaker Braydon Jones said SG has used its constitution, bylaws and internal rules and procedures as its governing documents in the past. Now, SG will combine its bylaws with its internal rules and procedures to form one detailed document — “The Code of Rules and Procedures.” Jones said this code will accompany SG’s constitution, which was simplified last spring.

All of the information discussed at the meeting, including the code of rules itself, will serve as a rough draft that will be subject to change as the review process continues, Jones said.

In the code of rules, Article 5 Section 5.8 says all interview notes must be made public. Liberal arts representative Sergio Cavazos said he thinks the sections should be removed and presented to the SG assembly as a resolution. 

“It’s a little more official,” Cavazos said. “That way, we can properly vet the situation and talk about federal privacy.”

In May, the SG Judicial Court released a ruling invalidating appointments to internal and external positions in the organization and required interview notes made by the SG Executive Board in the spring for those positions to be released to the SG assembly. However, the release of the notes was prevented when the Office of Legal Affairs determined in August that releasing the notes would be a violation of federal student privacy laws.

SG representatives opted to discuss the section in greater detail at a later date. Until then, the sections will remain in the code. During the meeting, SG representatives went line by line reviewing and discussing the rules. Jones said many of them were left in their original form, but other sections were added.

One of the proposed additions to the code is a 2.5 minimum GPA requirement for all agency members — the same requirement held for officers.

“If you put it in here, then you have to make sure every application you put out there gives [the Dean of Students] permission to check and verify that information on a regular basis,” said Cheryl Pyle, administrative services officer for the Office of the Dean of Students.  

The representatives decided not to add the section to the code for the time being but planned to review it at a later date.

Another topic of discussion was the enforcement of agency rules. Jones said agencies — which are smaller organizations within SG — should be required to host two events per year and host meetings at a consistent time and location every week. Jones said these policies were added to encourage student involvement.

“I really believe agencies are the vehicles that can be used — and should be used — to reach students on campus,” Jones said.

To make sure agencies are in good standing, Jones said there should be an agency evaluation process added to the code. Jones said the details of the process have not been solidified, but it would involve a standardized review of SG agencies every two years. Jones’ addition to the code would give agencies an “under review” period to meet the set standards before being removed.

Cavazos said he plans to update the governing document with revisions from the meeting. SG representatives will meet again to discuss policy before releasing the code for assembly approval.

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.