Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 28, 2023

Our SGA needs real influence over University decisions

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD | April 11, 2018


This year’s SGA executive election is essentially uncontested. Three out of four positions have a single candidate running, and only two candidates are running for the position of Executive President. The New Horizons ticket — comprised of Noh Mebrahtu for Executive President, AJ Tsang for Executive Vice President, Mi Tu for Executive Treasurer and Aspen Williams for Executive Secretary — is currently running against Jessup Jong, who is vying for Executive President. After speaking with all the candidates, we are pleased that they are all passionate about the wellbeing of the student body and shaping the direction that the school can take in the coming years. That being said, we fully endorse the New Horizons ticket. 

Mebrahtu, Tsang and Tu are all incumbent candidates. They bring valuable experience from their years in the SGA, which they will apply to the next term. Williams, though currently a freshman senator, has shown initiative in the past year, working on legislation that addresses student concerns such as gun control and smoking on campus. Collectively, New Horizons brings forth a message that is ambitious but also realistic. Their platform is well-researched and touches upon prevailing issues on campus like mental health, administrative accountability and academic support. For example, New Horizons aims to create a requirement for faculty and staff to attend mental health training sessions and to require the University to publish an annual breakdown of its expenditures. They are also well aware of stalemated conversations that they have had with the administration, and that some SGA senators have been growing more apathetic in their roles.

We recognize that Executive Presidential candidate Jong has actively solicited input from students during his campaign and is very invested in instigating change. However, Jong lacks the experience or in-depth knowledge of SGA and the University that Mebrahtu does. Furthermore, his only policy plan is to create conversation among the student body, and he lacks concrete strategies to reach his outlined goals. With these considerations in mind, we believe that New Horizons will be the most qualified ticket to serve on SGA’s Executive Board for next year.

We are well aware that they are essentially the only available candidates that we have to endorse. Over the past year, this SGA has pursued ambitious policies and New Horizons plans to do so again. We applaud their initiative, but we are concerned that the SGA as an organization can only do so much for the student body, regardless of who’s leading it.

We believe there are deep systemic limitations on the powers of our current SGA that thwart achieving such ambitious goals. Though it represents the student body, the SGA has little say in how our University administration treats us — the student body. We have heard our peers say over and over, “What does SGA even do?” Given its current setup, the organization cannot do much. 

SGA Senators can pass a resolution or allocate funding to a student group. But when the University makes a decision — whether it is about covered grades, fossil fuel divestment or private police — it does not have to act on SGA input, let alone consult the SGA at all. The New Horizons ticket acknowledges this problem and their solution is to generate grassroots support among students and faculty. However, we urge them and the rest of us to think broader. If we want students to have a voice in what our University does, the current system must change.

The powers that be

Over the past year, SGA has been a voice for students and has taken a more active and creative approach in trying to solve student issues. However, our student government ultimately has no direct influence in University decisions. 

As New Horizons admitted during our interview with them, the greatest power SGA has is to generate publicity around an issue or help students organize. Currently, SGA’s only real authority lies in governing student groups. Since SGA has no actual influence over the University’s decisions, many students and administrators regard them as though they are a high school’s student government.

The way the current system is set up, SGA can convey student views to the administration, but the administration is under no obligation to listen. The University does not seek student approval before enacting policies. Instead, the burden is on us as students to convince the University that our ideas matter. We should have elected student representatives who are able to hold the administration accountable. 

“Since SGA has no actual influence over the University’s decisions, many students and administrators regard them as though they are a high school’s student government.”

One of the primary purposes of the University is to serve its student body. Our tuition pays administrators’ salaries, so we should have a voice in decisions that affect all of us. We realize that there are many administrators who work tirelessly to help provide a voice for student ideas, and we appreciate their hard work. However, administrators often hide behind their bureaucracy to ignore student propositions with which they disagree, often claiming to not have the authority to enact those ideas and referring those students elsewhere.

New Horizons brought up the point that certain members of the administration never leave their offices and understand little about students’ daily lives. We demand a meaningful voice — a seat at the table. We deserve that from an institution that plays a huge role in our daily lives.

A real voice

This year’s SGA has done its best with the resources available to it. But to do more, we call upon the student body to redefine how we are represented in the University’s decision-making processes.

Where is the real power at this University? It lies with the Board of Trustees. Placing a Student Trustee on the Board would create a direct line for student influence. Instituting a referendum procedure, through which all students would be able to vote directly on issues, would also be a tangible way to incorporate student input into the decision-making process.

This is not a crazy idea — other universities have students on their Boards of Trustees. At Duke, for example, Anna Knight was elected to serve on the Board during her senior year and continues to serve this year as a graduate student. At Cornell, junior Dustin Liu was elected for a two-year term. At Purdue, junior Daniel Romary was appointed to serve until the end of this year. Furthermore, nearly a quarter of the University of Massachusetts’ Board are students. If Hopkins followed this model, whenever the Board of Trustees makes a decision, students would actually have a say.

We recognize that having student trustees among many other Board members would not be a complete fix of the lack of student representation at Hopkins. Nevertheless, we believe it would be a step in the right direction. 

Additionally, the SGA needs to have more of an active “student union” role with greater collective bargaining power. Looking to universities in Europe and their student governments, we can see that they give students more of a voice in university affairs. For example, the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) is the oldest student union in the United Kingdom, and enjoys a “constructive relationship with the University of Edinburgh.” Students who are elected representatives to the union sit on all major bodies and subcommittees at the university.

Similar to the EUSA structure, the SGA should have more influence over the University’s decisions. The SGA at Hopkins currently cannot force the University to consult students on issues that are of pressing concern to us. For example, while the SGA passed its 2017 resolution in support of Refuel Our Future’s fossil fuel divestment campaign, it did not have the power to work closely with the University to change how the University invests its endowment. This lack of power hinders the successful representation of student voices in University decisions.

These examples are few among many that illustrate how we can improve student representation at Hopkins. No solution is perfect and we do acknowledge that our aforementioned ideas may seem ambitious now. But we encourage next year’s entire SGA and our fellow students to begin this conversation about how we can all have a real voice at Hopkins.

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