George Washington University Student Association
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (August 2012)|
|Institution||The George Washington University|
|Established||May 24, 1976|
|Vice president||Kostas Skordalos|
The George Washington University Student Association, colloquially known as the Student Association (SA), is the student government of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Modeled after the United States federal government, it consists of three branches: legislative, executive and judicial.
The Student Association is responsible for advocacy on behalf of the student body at The George Washington University. The first form of student government at GW can be traced back to a system of class officers in 1909. The Student Council, the precursor to today's student government, was first established in 1930. After some changes to the structure it was dissolved following a student body vote in 1970 after being deemed unworkable. The constitution that ushered the creation of the current Student Association was ratified in 1976 after a university wide referendum.
Prior to the Student Association, the student governing body was the student council. The student council was established in 1930 to replace the system governed by various class presidents or officers, which began in 1909. All schools in 1930 were to receive one representative for every 500 students. In 1938 the constitution was changed. The new Council was composed of 9 members elected of the student body at large and 5 members from various student groups. It was given the following powers: 1) to make rules governing elections, 2) to classify activities as “major” or “minor,” 3) to require major activities to file prospecti covering their programs for each year, 4) to prescribe systems of accounts and records for any activity, and, 5) to make rules providing appropriate penalties for violation of any rule, regulation, or order of the Council. The Council system, with modifications (it later became known as the Student Assembly), continued until February 27, 1970, when 69% of the student body voted in a referendum to dissolve the student government. Student Assembly president Neil Portnow ran for reelection with the abolition of the Assembly as the major plank of his platform. He won, and on February 17 read a statement to The GW Hatchet and other press announcing the abolition of GW's student government.
It wasn’t until 1974 that a referendum to bring back some form of student government was initiated, and in January 1975 students voted to create a new governing system by a five to one margin. The George Washington University Student Association came into being in April 1976 when students ratified a new constitution by a vote of 1,343 to 241. On May 24 of that year the Board of Trustees ratified the Student Association charter. Membership included all full-time, part-time, graduate, professional and undergraduate students who were registered for academic credit. Today, the Student Association is made up of the executive, senate and judicial branches.
The President and Vice President, elected by the entire student population each year, oversee an Executive Staff that deals with the day-to-day operations of the Student Association. The current SA President is Julia Susuni and the current Vice President is Kostas Skordalos. Additionally, the President appoints eleven members to the executive Cabinet that must be confirmed by the SA Senate. The President also appoints Directors who are not mandated by the Constitution and do not require Senate approval. Examples include: Director of New Students and Director of The Mount Vernon Campus. The President also appoints students to other positions, such as a representative to the Faculty Senate. All appointees do not need to run for office.
Some SA alumni have been successful after college, such as former SA president Edward "Skip" Gnehm, who was the Ambassador to Kuwait during the Gulf War and received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award and two Presidential Meritorious Service Awards.
The Senate of the George Washington University Student Association holds the power to approve bills that are sent to the President, as well as control the Student Association's $1,000,000 budget. It is arguably the most influential branch of the SA. The Senate consists of thirty Senators representing their respective schools within the university, as well as three non-voting freshmen Senators. The Senate consists of four standing committees that include the Finance Committee, Student Life Committee, Academic Affairs Committee and Senate Leadership Committee. The Senate has the mandate of making recommendations on issues that affect student life, give general direction to Student Association policies, collect a student fee from tuition and subsequent disbursement, and passing of bills as it sees fit among other powers. The current President Pro Tempore of the SA Senate is Daniel Egel-Weiss.
The Finance Committee is in charge of the funds that the Senate collects from student tuition to fund the Student Association budget, collecting just over $1,000,000. These funds are primarily doled out to the 400+ student organizations on campus at The George Washington University in addition to funding the operational budget of the Student Association. The Committee is responsible for setting criteria for disbursements and working with the Vice President for Financial Affairs, a member of the President's cabinet. In 2012 the Finance Committee put a Student Fee Increase to a student body referendum. The proposal sought to increase the amount the SA collects from students to $3.00 per credit hour from $1.50 per credit hour, boosting the to SA budget to an estimated $1,750,000 over nine years. The referendum was ratified overwhelmingly by the student body with 66% voting in favor. The current Chairman is Ryan Counihan.
The Student Life Committee is responsible for advocating on issues that affect students. Primarily, the Committee raises these issues at Senate meetings and proposes bills to be used as the basis for advocacy efforts.
The Academic Affairs Committee primarily focuses on issues that relate students academics. The Committee works closely with the Faculty Senate and university administration to address relevant issues.
The Judicial Branch consists of the Student Court, composed of five members, two of whom must be undergraduate and two graduate students. Members of the Court serve for their entire academic career after being appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The court has jurisdiction over any cases the involve suits brought between parties within the Student Association and between other student organizations suing the Student Association.
The Court is not very active, but was shown to still be relevant when it decided the outcome of a Presidential election in 2009. Presidential candidate Kyle Boyer won the popular vote, but was charged with a violation of election rules for failing to report the market value of a car used during campaigning. Julie Bindleglass lost the popular vote, but became President of the SA when the Joint Election Committee, active during elections, threw Boyer off the ballot. Boyer then sued the Joint Elections Committee in the Student Court. The Court used a 1992 precedent in which Presidential candidate Christopher Ferguson alleged he was thrown off the ballot in an "arbitrary and capricious manner", criteria for bringing a case to the court, as precedent for hearing the case. The Student Court upheld the disqualification from the ballot and effectively decided the outcome of the election.
The Student Association has taken up a plethora of advocacy issues, and there has been criticism leveled at the Student Association that it seems to change focus from administration to administration with no continuity, as well as large turnover in the Senate.  The Senate is usually the start of advocacy by passing bills to express support for an issue and the President follows through with lobbying to the University administration.
In the past few years, the Student Association focused largely on fee reduction for students. Starting in 2010 the SA focused on reducing printing fees after charges were leveled that the University was profiting off of students.  After having little success the issue was again taken up in 2011 with the formation of a joint committee of students and faculty after stonewalling from the university administration. Second semester of the 2011-2012 academic year there was again another vow to renew the fight against student fees. Eventually, the fee was reduced.
Other advocacy efforts have included the restoration of free news papers to student after they were cut by the University. There was also a push to ban smoking on campus by the Senate that led to a campus wide referendum that passed overwhelmingly, but needs to be enacted by the administration. The Student Association has also successfully lobbied for the installation of condom dispensers in residence halls.
The Student Association has not been immune to infighting, notably between the 2010-2011 Administration of John Richardson and the Legislative Branch. Richardson repeatedly called the Senate out for lack of action in the beginning of the spring 2012 semesters. He later retracted his comments and apologized.