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Opinion: OU campus leaders suppress student voices in presidential selection process

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SGA 2017

The Student Government Association meeting Sept. 26. 2017.

In a matter of 39 minutes, without an application process or a single interview, the heads of the Student Government Association selected themselves to be the sole voice for students in the hunt for the next president of the University of Oklahoma. 

I know quite a bit about student government, having spent two and a half years as an active member — heading two congressional committees and being elected and serving as the vice chair of the Undergraduate Student Congress. I strived to serve the student body to the best of my ability the entire time. As someone who has worked for you with everything he’s got, at every opportunity, I believe we all have been duped. We’ve been robbed of the opportunity to select the best candidates to represent us in the selecting of David L. Boren’s replacement — one of the most important decisions facing our university.

Who is responsible for this offense? One of the primary groups to blame are the leaders of SGA. These leaders received notice from the Board of Regents at 4 p.m. on Oct. 2 that they had only one week to select four students to be Presidential Search Committee nominees. Due to SGA nomination procedures, this left only a little under an hour to decide the four nominees to meet the Oct. 9 deadline. This deadline was outrageous, considering President Boren will not step down for another nine months. The leaders of SGA, however, didn’t even use the full hour. By 4:38 p.m. the same day they were notified, the heads of both congress and senate, as well as the SGA vice president, had been selected and submitted to congress for approval to be appointed to the Regents' search committee. The leaders of our student government, those who should have stood up and said “The students deserve more time,” have yielded the responsibilities they were elected for. They have, intentionally or otherwise, circumvented the selection of any other, possibly better suited, candidates in favor of themselves. Even after the judicial branch of SGA recently ruled that the chairs of congress and senate are unable to serve on the selection committee while also chairing their respective bodies, they are now working to change these rules, as they are inconvenient to their personal agendas. This is an egregious act by any measure and a clear conflict of interest as they head the bodies responsible for their own appointment. 

Sadly, two bodies that I hold a great respect for are not free from blame either. The Undergraduate Student Congress and Graduate Student Senate both had the opportunity to strike down these nominations, yet failed to do so. SGA President J.D. Baker simply asked both houses to pass the bill, justifying the nominations by claiming the leadership’s hands were tied by the timeline. Congress, to their credit, asked a few questions about the nature of the selection, but at the end of the day failed to stand up for a more meticulous and inclusive selection process.

The final party we must hold accountable is the Board of Regents themselves. The timeline they imposed was restrictive and did not allow for an appropriate amount of time for the students to properly select nominees for this committee. The Regents also pushed a similarly ridiculous deadline on the Staff Senate, the body which represents staff interests at OU. This body had to send out their nomination to their members with only a three-and-a-half-hour notice. It is clear that most, if not all, parties outside the Board of Regents are being strong-armed into making their selections quickly. I must interpret that to mean they do not intend to listen to our voices — they simply want our rubber stamp of approval. Disappointingly, there is not much to be done in regards to the Regents because the people who have the option to object have chosen not to do so for reasons we can only sit and ponder.

We have had a great disservice visited upon us as a student body. We will never know for sure if our student voices are being expressed in the best possible way because of the hasty manner in which the students for the presidential search committee were selected. I know from those that have contacted me about this matter that there are many intelligent, qualified students outside of SGA who wanted to take a crack at representing us. And instead of making sure all students were included and informed, instead of shouting to the hills for volunteers and those eager, the nominations were carried out without a word to the student body. Our elected leaders decided to yield to the will of the Regents instead of standing up for the rights of the students.

Austin Reid is a drama senior and guest columnist for The Daily.

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