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Willard guides SGA through transition period

Willard guides SGA through transition period

Willard guides SGA through transition period
March 24
00:50 2015

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

The Student Government Association faced new challenges this semester after experiencing a transition of leadership within its executive branch and learning that the Graduate Student Council passed a petition to become an independent government for graduate students.

On Jan. 28, SGA released a statement saying student body president Troy Elliott would be unable to serve due to financial problems. Vice president and recreation, event and sports management senior Kam Willard was appointed president while chief-of-staff Ike Esedebe took over Willard’s former position.

“[The SGA is] trying to keep the organization strong when they’re going through a mid-year transition in their presidency,” SGA director Melissa McGuire said. “That’s a huge accomplishment in and of itself – just keeping the organization together and moving forward.”

Another issue plaguing the association is GSC’s decision to pass a referendum to act as a representative body for graduate students. On March 19, the council met the requirements by collecting 1,250 signatures, which would effectively separate the two organizations if students vote in its favor at the general election next month.

“This referendum will result in better representation, doubling the strength of our representative bodies, expand academic and cultural opportunities and improve the quality of life for ALL UNT students,” GSC president Jesus Valero wrote in a statement released Jan. 23.

Presidential changes

Following out-of-state student financial issues, Elliott could not register for classes during the spring semester. When an elected president is unable to serve, the vice president will immediately serve as president, according to the SGA constitution.

Although Elliott remains an advisor of the association, Willard has taken on significant responsibility, including chairing the Student Service Fee Committee and leading a group of students to represent UNT in Austin on Capitol Day.

While Elliott intricately involves himself in almost all interactions among members of the executive board, Willard often trusts his peers and provides guidance when needed, McGuire said.

Elliott said this leadership style is more diplomatic and less confrontational, saying he is more direct whereas Willard looks for compromise.

“We’re significantly different in the way that we lead, and that’s why we’re such a good team,” Elliott said. “One of my greater qualities is that I’m very decisive. Kam wants to hear a lot more from other people – what the stakeholders have to say about it.”

Despite the changes, Willard said SGA had a good start to the school year. He said it wasn’t difficult to take over the presidency because he already had experience dealing with similar responsibilities as vice president.

“As an organization, we’re moving strong,” Willard said. “It’s just that when your leadership is affected in some sort of fashion, it can affect the organization just by however that leader really impacted the organization. With his absence, you can see there’s a little bit of discrepancy, but other than that, we’re moving along fine.”

SGA vs. GSC

Currently, the university recognizes SGA as the only student government on campus. While the association’s mission is to be the official voice of the UNT student body, GSC aims to better represent graduate students, who serve only two seats on the SGA Senate.

In the summer of 2014, SGA and GSC convened to discuss the council’s decision to become a split organization. The meeting began with SGA’s request to explore ways the association could improve the manner in which it serves graduate students.

“Our student population doesn’t reflect a split,” Willard said. “I see the student population as fine, and I definitely see the SGA representing the students and its constituency fine at the same time.”

SGA proposed securing a minimum of 10 seats for graduate student senators. Graduate students comprise less than 5 percent of the SGA Senate, which Valero wrote was “problematic because it skews the vote and diminishes the voice of graduate students.”

GSC also said the SGA Senate failed to pass legislation sponsored by two graduate student senators who wanted to differentiate undergraduate and graduate student ID cards. The council’s goal was to simplify the identification process at university libraries and student organizations.

Elliott said he is currently advising the association to campaign for students to vote against GSC’s campaign during the April election, saying the split would be detrimental to both organizations’ productivity. He also said the council is capitalizing on SGA’s transitional period and using the change to its advantage.

In the GSC statement, Valero indicated the council has the support of UNT president Neal Smatresk and Toulouse Graduate School Dean Mark Wardell.

“[It] is clear that the SGA is unable to effectively represent graduate students at the UNT,” Valero wrote. “Currently, graduate students comprise 20 percent of the student population, contribute a commensurable amount in student service fees, and are therefore entitled to fair representation.”

Year-end expectations

At the end of Willard’s term on June 1, the SGA office will have a new president and vice president. Elections begin in two weeks, and Willard said he hopes to hear more input from students through a successful general election.

“Election has kind of been dwindling down as far as participation and involvement from students,” he said. “What I’m aiming for is just to increase voter turnout amongst the students and the campus population higher than it’s recently been in the past couple years.”

Willard’s other roles include participating at Honors Day, mass commencement and the student organization awards ceremony.

Even though Willard only recently stepped into the highest executive position at SGA, McGuire said she is confident in his ability to govern the student population.

“I think Kam is a very strong leader. He’s coming into his leadership style because he wasn’t in a role like this previously, but he’s strong student academically and he’s a strong student socially in his college experiences,” she said. “He is going to always do what’s best for students because he has students in mind as a student himself.”

Featured Image: SGA president Kam Willard looks over schedule in the association’s office inside Stovall Hall. Photo by Hannah Ridings – Staff Photographer

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