By Emily Boots
After adding several new members this fall, IUP's Student Government Association is composing a Retention and Advancement Report to boost attendance.
The report comes halfway through the administration of SGA President Patrick Barnacle, who pledged reforms in student government when he took office in April. The report will guide SGA leaders as they try to fill the vacant seats that have plagued the student legislature for years, Barnacle said.
"It's going to be a way for us to reflect on the situation, see what we can do and get an action plan," Barnacle, a senior economics major said in a Nov. 16 interview in his HUB office.
The report, supervised by Brandon Marree (junior, political science), head of SGA's Elections Committee, is an internal effort by the organization to develop ways to bring IUP students into SGA and boost attendance among members at meetings and events.
Twenty students are regular members of SGA this semester, said Barnacle, a 65 percent increase from its 13 members a year ago. On the other hand, most of SGA's constitutionally allotted 49 seats - as specified under Article II, Section 1 - remain vacant.
"We really need to assess what will make students curious about government," said Barnacle.
Students who attend one meeting and say they want to join SGA have been sworn in immediately. Often, however, those students stop attending meetings early into each semester. Barnacle said the report will approach ways to address the turnover in SGA membership.
The motion to create an SGA retention officer was approved on Feb. 21, 2005. But then-SGA President Nikki Norris (alum, psychology/criminology) never appointed anyone to the post, said Barnacle.
Marree said in a Nov. 4 e-mail that he hopes to make students more aware of meeting dates, generate interest in student-related issues and make SGA more visible to students. While SGA encourages all students to participate, the report targets underclassmen. One reason is that to run for SGA leadership office, students must have some experience in the organization.
Revised SGA requirements for office were adopted in an April 2005 revision of the student-government constitution. Article III, Section 3 requires candidates for SGA president to have at least three semesters'experience in student government.
Barnacle told the April 10 issue of The Penn that he did not support those changes and expressed "frustration" with other changes to the constitution. In the Nov. 16 interview, he said it's important to recruit students who demonstrate readiness for active roles in student government.
Barnacle said Nov. 16 that he is "hesitant" to recruit the newest students.
"I really feel like we need to get the right people in here," Barnacle said. "Freshmen need time to adjust to school. We hope to get to them during their second semester. From there, we try to get them on committees and in leadership positions."
According to the SGA constitution, Article II, Section I, student representation is drawn from every academic college and all campus residence halls. Marree said that filling SGA vacancies according to college and residence hall can only be accomplished by attracting a wider sample of students.
"We are working on that one step at a time," Maree said in the e-mail. "I would like to see those positions filled, but filling those vacancies does not take priority ... all of the positions within SGA are vital."
Likewise, Barnacle said Nov. 16 that it is possible to get students interested in an organization if they feel that it has something to offer to them. He talked about the success of an organization for international business students that he resurrected several semesters ago. The membership "skyrocketed" after a ski trip and soccer tournament, growing from six to nearly 40 students. He said he hopes the same will happen for SGA.
"It's about making events visible to people who have the interest," Barnacle said.
SGA actions take aim at student apathy
Recent SGA efforts to attract student interest in campus affairs have produced some results:
· In March, SGA introduced "Speak Up, IUP," a series of occasional forums to allow students to express concerns directly to university officials. An Oct. 9 forum sparked debate over the recent decision by the IUP Council of Trustees to arm campus police. The forum drew more than 60 students and packed the Delaware Room in the Hadley Union Building.
· SGA updated its list of officers on its Web page this fall. "We definitely plan to put up more information and make the stuff that's on it up-to-date," said SGA President Patrick Barnacle. "No one really knew how to use PageMaker when it was put up [two years ago]."
· SGA spent more than $1,900 on advertising the organization in The Penn between June 2005 and June 2006. But student government elections in April attracted a dismal turnout. Brandon Marree (junior, political science), head of SGA's Elections Committee, cited the SGA elections as evidence student government must do more to draw student interest.