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OU Undergraduate Student Congress announces new SGA president, vice president, passes 5 new bills

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A screenshot of the Nov. 10 OU Student Government Association Undergraduate Congress meeting.

The Undergraduate Student Congress passed five bills, announced the new SGA president and vice president and discussed an extension of the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act in its Tuesday night meeting. 

Congressional Administration Committee Chairman Foster Hillis announced Tavana Farzaneh and Alex Gray are the new SGA president and vice-president, respectively.

According to the Fall 2020 SGA Official Election Report, the Election Board voted to unanimously certify the unofficial election results and awaits validation from the Superior Court.

In the election report, Tavana Farzaneh & Alex Gray had 1313 votes, 62.19 percent; Drew Brown and Taylor Smail had 559 votes, 26.48 percent; and Easton Holloway and Diahn Citty had 239 votes, 11.32 percent. 

In an interview with The Daily, Farzaneh said she is hopeful and excited about winning the SGA elections.

“I also feel incredibly grateful there were so many people who believed in us and the change we would like to see,” Farzaneh said in the interview. “I’m prepared to serve and I cannot wait to get started on our initiatives.”

Farzaneh said her first priorities in office are to get started on the Farzaneh-Gray platform and be an “accessible” SGA president. She added she and Gray are meeting with the International Advisory Committee next week to collaborate on the creation of an International Student Liaison position, one of their platform points. 

“This is an application we want to have out when we release our executive cabinet applications as well — hopefully by the end of the semester,” Farzaneh said. “Once we establish our cabinet, we will begin to work on our platform points by delegating tasks and working on them all collectively.”

She said she is excited to get to know students and hear their stories.

“As we have said throughout our campaign, we want to amplify student voices and ignite comprehensive change, and I am confident that we will be able to do this,” Farzaneh said in the interview.

Gray said she is also excited about winning the election, and shared she loved the campaign process of meeting a lot of new people and hearing from many students.

“As the first all-women administration in office in ten years, and being the first Black woman vice-president in office, I’m so excited for the change we’re about to bring,” Gray said in the interview.

During the meeting, University Policy committee chair Crispin South announced Interim Provost Jill Irvine will not be enacting a pass/no pass policy this semester.

He said this decision was made for several reasons, such as the continuing flexibility of faculty with assignments and grading. He said administrators also considered midterm grade data showing there has been a significant increase in the number of A's that students are receiving, and a concern that enacting a policy this semester would set a precedent for a pass/no pass policy.

In addition, many academic leaders were concerned that a pass/no pass policy for three semesters in a row would be detrimental to students' scholarship opportunities, awards and graduate applications, and that it would also make it difficult for instructors to track students progress and identify areas of strength or areas students need support in. 

South said SGA efforts, though unsuccessful in achieving a pass/no pass policy, will still have some impact on the student body as the Provost has proposed some changes.

Administrators have switched the deadline for withdrawing classes from Nov. 13 to Nov. 20. The withdrawals for the semester have also been proposed by the administration to not count against the overall limit of withdrawals students have while they're at OU.

South said SGA hopes to work with Student Affairs as well as University Counseling to expand and publicize mental health resources for students who have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 crisis. 

South emphasized even though SGA did not get the results they wanted, their students got farther than many students at other universities who have tried to get a pass/no pass option. 

“The fact that we've been able to change academic policy even a little bit to benefit students is phenomenal. This project has been a perfect example of what Congress is supposed to do,” South said. “As we heard earlier, our mission statement says that we represent the interest of undergraduate students in their pursuit of academic and individual achievement. I believe that we have done just that, and that we have enhanced the quality of the undergraduate experience at (OU). I'm extremely proud of all the work that has been done on academic policy this semester, and all of the work that is continuing.”

Congress members also touched on Oklahoma House Minority Leader Emily Virgin’s (D-Norman) Tuesday press conference in which she asked the legislature to hold a special session for multiple reasons one of them being the extent of the teleconferencing section of the Open Meetings Act.

Chair Savanah Patterson said SGA wants either Gov. Kevin Stitt to issue an executive order or the state legislature to convene for a special session.

“The GSS Chair, Melissa Massey, and I wrote a letter to President Harroz, asking him to back us and support us in our initiative,” Patterson said.

External Affairs Chair Taylor Broadbent said she and other members of Congress went to the state capitol to observe Virgin’s press conference and drop off letters in the Governor’s office about an extension of the exemption for virtual meetings in the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.

“The Student Government Association means a lot to me and my peers,” Broadbent wrote in her letter to Stitt. “That is why I am writing to you today urging you to extend SB661, An Act Relating to the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act, by executive order. In this amendment, the use of teleconferencing for the purpose of meetings protected citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic. Teleconferencing is essential to keeping members of (SGA) safe from the pandemic considering we have a lot of members, anywhere from 20-100 at a time.”

In the letter, she said it is “unreasonable” for her peers to meet in person because they would have to consider the ramifications if they were to be exposed to COVID-19, as many students “live with immunocompromised individuals or are immunocompromised themselves.” Another reason would be OU going to a completely virtual learning environment after Thanksgiving break, meaning many SGA members will be travelling out of state or potentially out of the country, Broadbent said.

During a Tuesday press conference, Stitt said it was unlikely the state legislature would reconvene for a special session to extend the Open Meetings Act exemption for teleconferences.

Congress members also welcomed new SGA representatives. 

SGA President Justin Norris presented the “Conoco Student Leadership Center Space Allocations Act,” a bill that assigns office spaces in the Conoco Student Leadership Center Office to different student organizations. The bill passed with a final roll call of 27-0-0.

According to the congress agenda, "OU COVID-19 policies and regulations must be observed in all allocated spaces; otherwise, the registered student organizations — such as Class Council,  Black Student Association (and Union Programming Board)— will be penalized for any violation of such policies and regulations." 

Congress also saw “The Mandatory COSCO Light Walk Act,” a bill which clarifies the specific role of the Campus Outreach, Safety, and Concerns committee with regards to light walks— during which committee members walk around campus to make sure lights are working properly. The bill ensures the safety of students walking on campus at night or at times when lights are necessary, and also ensures that light walks will be done on a regular basis, according to the congress agenda.

Some congress members questioned the language of the bill, in which the light walk is considered mandatory.

Alexis Marvin, the author of the bill, said the language used in the bill is supposed to hold the chair accountable for their duties. She also said if an unexpected event happens — such as the ice storm that made the committee cancel their last light walk, or people getting sick — there is going to be flexibility within the bill.

“With the situation that we've previously seen, where we had to reschedule, (the language) is not strict enough to say ‘you have to do it’,” Marvin said.

According to the bill, the COSCO committee must plan a light walk each month that congress has a general body meeting and classes are held on campus. The bill passed with a roll call of 25-0-1.

Congress also saw the “Auxiliary Allocation 8 Act of 2020-2021,” a bill which appropriates SGA funds to student organizations, such as Clay Target Team, Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, and Sports Business Association. The bill passed with a final roll call of 26-0-0. 

Chair Savanah Patterson presented the “Big XII, BIG Responsibilities Act of 2020,” which establishes the Vice Chair of Undergraduate Student Congress as the head of the OU delegation at Big 12 SGA conferences.

“We don't have something that a lot of other universities do, which is a big twelve coordinator, '' Patterson said. “Those responsibilities for either planning conferences, or planning our presentations or just having those internal conversations have been landing on the back of the SGA president, and honestly, it's a big responsibility for the SGA president to hold.”

Some congress members asked why the  bill is “temporary” and expires in two years. Patterson said originally it wasn’t a temporary bill, but an act. 

“When I presented (the act) to (the executive committee) the first time I thought it would be better to have a sunset clause just in case it didn't work, so we weren't bound by it and we wouldn't have to have another piece of legislation that overruled it,” Patterson said. “So if this is something the Executive Committee, congress, or SGA in general likes in the future, then they can actually codify it and make it something permanent.”

The bill passed with a final roll call of 26-0-0.

The “Fall 2020 Special Election for the Academic District Range Amendment Act of 2020” bill passed with a final roll call vote of 26-1-1. This bill says an election for the “Academic District Range Amendment of 2020" should be established one academic week after the passing and signing of the bill, and voting for the election should occur exclusively over Engage on Tuesday and Wednesday of the week.

Gabriela Tumani is an international student from Brazil. She is majoring in journalism with a minor in international studies and works as a junior news reporter for The Daily.

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