Why it’s essential to have SGA transparency

Nick Fizzano, Contributing Writer

We all know or have heard about the Quinnipiac University Student Government Association, or also known as SGA. Some of us have signed the endorsement of candidates to be on ballots, while some in student organizations keep their fingers crossed that these student leaders will approve most of their budget items. Unfortunately, we just don’t know a lot of what they do.

Most of the representatives are elected by students, usually in the fall or spring semester, except when there are unfilled positions. It isn’t strange for SGA to have vacancies either. Archives from the Quinnipiac Chronicle between 2021 and 2022 show SGA resignations ran rampant, with 10 resignations alone over the winter break.

These vacant offices are filled by special elections, where only SGA members vote. Special elections are generally done in executive session, which requires any non-members to leave the room, locking out constituents. Even on SGA’s minutes log, which can be found on Do You QU, there is nothing more than a note that SGA went into executive session and then eventually left it. There isn’t even a hint as to how long they were in it.

Things were different at the Feb. 1, SGA meeting for a special election, where there were three vacant offices. As usual, the motion was made to go into the executive session. Yet, going against tradition, first-year Class President J.P. DiDonato argued against the motion, reasoning that the student body does not have a true say in who their representatives are, and even worse, they do not even know what their representatives plan to do.

As I put on my coat, fully expecting to be politely told to leave, I watched the hands raise against the motion. At first, I could not tell what had happened, but when SGA President Owenea Roberts announced the motion had failed, I realized the executive session would be delayed. I was privileged enough to listen to the candidates speeches and some questions from senators. An attempt was made to go into executive session after each candidate spoke in order to allow SGA to discuss, then exit the session after.

Doing this, I have no doubt, would have steadily led to fewer people coming back after each session. Had the motion to temporarily go into executive session gone through, there would only be an illusion of transparency. Thankfully, that motion failed too, and all three candidates spoke one after the other, only interrupted by a few questions from SGA members. The next vote for an executive session passed nearly unanimously – with DiDonato abstaining. For the first time, the people in the crowd and the media heard the speeches of peers who hoped to represent us in our student government.

In all fairness to the members of SGA who voted for the motion, their argument for executive session centers around the idea that SGA should be able to speak freely about candidates, without fear of offending others.

Yet, to have the entirety of elections in an executive session is frankly undemocratic and unrepresentative. To have the representatives of people thrown on them without an idea of what they intend to do is not how any successful form of government runs itself. What DiDonato did was open up a door to the process a crack, but the door should be open entirely.

This should not be the only time SGA moves itself toward transparency. As a student body, we should commend SGA for this step, however we have to push them to continue to be transparent. The SGA cannot believe that making one move to reveal their business to students is enough.

There is more that needs to be done. The fact that there is no record of how long executive sessions last is another serious issue which should be remedied. There is no way to tell how long executive sessions last and as such there is no way to imagine what has happened during the course of them.

There isn’t even an official record of how individual members of SGA voted in special elections, or in any vote, for that matter. This is problematic for a number of reasons.

Firstly, normal elections will publicly post a breakdown of the votes individuals won. There is no reason for a different standard to apply toward special elections candidates. Further, if it is made so that student senators have to own up to whether or not they voted for a candidate, they can be held responsible for the success or failure of that candidate.

Indeed, the same rationale applies to normal votes. If you have voted for or against something, your constituents deserve to know and should be able to ask why. When SGA is more transparent, there is more accountability. No one can hide behind the opaque darkness of tradition when the spotlight is put upon them.

SGA deserves to be congratulated for its move toward transparency. The representatives responsible should be recognized for facilitating that move and those who voted with him should be recognized for pushing it over the finish line. But this should not be the end of the story, SGA should continue a march to make as much of their business as transparent as possible.