With the 2017 Student Government elections drawing to a close, the current president and vice president are wrapping up their term in office by reflecting on their administration.
“I underestimated how much work it is,” said Akshitha Padigela, SG president and finance senior.
Over the past year, Padigela spent 20 hours a week in her office, in addition to several additional hours to prepare for her official obligations.
Padigela ran on the United As One ticket with current Vice President Joey Campain last January. She was not the original choice for president, but was voted into the spot by the members of the ticket after the first candidate dropped out.
“I had reservations and that’s why I never did it, but I had been in Student Government prior to me being president, so I knew I was qualified,” she said. “So when the opportunity came, I was like, ‘Why not?’”
The primary goal of Padigela’s ticket was to unite the campus on all levels — from administration to the student body to Student Government.
“For me, it was, ‘Okay I’ll just meet with every single organization.’ That’s not plausible,” she said. “You can’t hear the concerns of every single student. Working on that, that has been the hardest.”
Instead, Padigela and Campain turned most of their attention second semester to making changes in the governing document of SG — the constitution.
Before they addressed the issue, there was not a way to hold senators accountable to their obligations.
“If you weren’t doing your work outside of senate, if you weren’t doing your projects, if you weren’t bettering student life, then there was no way for us to reflect on that,” Campain said. “And if you weren’t willing to change, there was no way for us to remove you.”
In the past, the only way an under-performing senator could be removed from SG was if he or she violated the attendance policy three times.
“As far as legacy, I don’t really care if they realize a couple years down the road that this is what Joey accomplished. I see my legacy as being how senate runs as a whole, which is why I’ve been so passionate about editing our constitution,” he said. “It enables the organization two, three, four years from now to be as effective as a student senate should be. There’s a lot of room for growth in our senate.”
Those constitution changes were confirmed after the 2017 election.
Although the president and vice president ran on the promise of uniting the campus, Campain admits the idea fell by the wayside as time ran out during the administration’s first semester.
“Honestly, so far we haven’t done much,” he said. “As me and Akshitha reflected on what our idea of executives in student government was, it was to ensure that our group was functioning as a whole. … And a lot of this is happening second semester because first semester is a lot of that senate work. A lot of, ‘How can we get this group off the ground?’”
One thing Padigela and Campain did organize to further their original goal was the President’s Day Brunch, an event that brought together student leaders from various organizations to discuss student concerns.
“The biggest disadvantage that we have is our term is one year, so time is our biggest constraint,” Padigela said. “And so when getting a response back from an email takes some time and then from that you have to write that proposal. … It takes time.”
While the president and vice president dedicated the second semester to constitution reform, the first semester was spent working on senatorial engagement.
“The way I saw my role this year was empowering senators towards kind of enabling them to take projects on their own,” Campain said.
The committees in SG decide as a group which projects they’ll pursue during the year. Senators, then, can sometimes get stuck working on projects they’re not passionate about, Padigela said.
“Even if that’s not something I want to work on, I’d still have to work on it because my committee is working on it,” she said. “So this year we came up with the one-on-ones. We meet with the senator one-on-one and we kind of decide what project they should work on based off what they want.”
Campain said he has already noticed a difference in the way senators are approaching their obligations.
“I’m excited that our senators have stepped outside the box and taken on projects that aren’t necessarily just the run of the mill project that you expect from a student senate, but actually trying to change the life here on campus,” he said.
Looking back on her term, Padigela had difficulty coming up with a concrete list of goals she accomplished, because so many of them are stuck in the proposal stage. This includes projects such as President’s Park, a massive amphitheater for performances on campus.
“I wish I had chosen smaller projects to work on so I could see things happen at the very end, when my term is over and say, ‘I did this,’” she said.
Padigela said she also wished she was given more information on how the executive branch of SG worked during her transition into office.
“There’s just a whole lot more to it. And almost every single thing that you’re like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe they haven’t thought of this,’ I’m sure someone has thought of it and there are reasons that they can’t do it,” she said. “For example, parking. They can’t just put more parking spaces in because … where is that money going to come from?”
Campain expressed similar concerns about their transition to president and vice president.
“We didn’t exactly know what it was going to be like (or) how our year was going to be spent,” he said. “We want to work on our transition this year to make sure our executives know exactly the challenges we face.”
For Campain, the biggest challenge he faced in adjusting to the vice presidency was in learning and respecting the existing chain of command.
“(The vice presidency) requires a lot of transparent communication. And just to be frankly honest, I have gotten in trouble with it a lot,” he said. “Sometimes I would outstep and I’d take some power away from our executive chairs by reaching out to senators and starting those conversations with senators. And although it’s never negative, if I took some power away from the executive chair, then that kind of stresses our relationship.”
Despite these setbacks, Padigela and Campain expressed how serving Student Government was a tremendous chance for growth.
“It’s just been a huge learning opportunity for me,” Padigela said. “What kind of leader I am, when I need to be leader and when I need to just be here to listen to people.”