Having judged Student Governments for 14 years and visited many schools in Florida, we at Florida Leader know a good SG when we see one. We know, too, what most SGs lack and how to remedy that.
This year’s crop of SGs is stronger than ever, and each year, administrations from one corner of the state to the other, from the public university level to community college level, seem to be improving.
However, we’re always looking for a group that excels in every area. When even the top groups falter, showing a glaring weakness, we as observers wonder how they could have missed it and why.
Based on our observations and our list of questions in this year’s application, here’s our “top 10” list of areas a top SG should excel in:
1. Serve the students first. Remember that as an SG leader, you’re a public servant and that students are your constituency. It’s all about them and not about you. If that isn’t obvious, then bail out now for everyone’s sake, including your own. You wouldn’t want it any other way for elected officials serving you, right?
2. Improve if you can, but always excel. While you don’t have to feel pressured to always excel beyond last year’s group, the goal should be to excel to your, and your administration’s, utmost ability. The issue is not, “Are we bigger, better, and badder than last year’s group?” but rather, “Are we doing our best, the best we possibly can?” And that usually shines through, obvious to all that you and your administration strive for excellence, even if you don’t always obtain it. We acknowledge, however, that just maintaining status quo can be a challenge.
3. Guarantee fiscal responsibility. Put budget safeguards in place, establish an approval system, and define a requisition policy. Make sure you have a clearly written set of documents that spell out how money is spent, approved, and distributed. Then, make sure you have a record-keeping and reporting system that works for everyone. Finally, keep it up-to-date, accessible, and regularly reported.
4. Work with other schools and statewide lobby groups. There’s strength in numbers and encouragement in teams. Statewide groups such as FSA (Florida Student Association, www.fsa1.org) or FJCCSGA (Florida Junior/Community College Student Government Association, www.flccaa.org) can help you work together to get things done for students and let the legislature know you’re for real. Locally, collaborate with other schools in your area to accomplish goals for all of your students.
5. Communicate services and accomplishments. Tell students about the services you’re providing, the events you’ve planned for them, and how SG serves them and makes itself available. Tell them how to contact you—office, phone, e-mail, web site—and make yourself available by having manned tables in the student union or welcoming students at orientation. Flyers and posters are staples of every campus organization, but how about putting publicity in restroom stalls? And what about an e-mail blast? At most campuses, every student has an e-mail address, so put it to use. Sending out newsletters? With the ease of on- or off-campus printing and available software, producing a slick, full-color newsletter is a breeze, though black-and-white or spot color works fine. Got a web site? Every campus now has resources (server space; software), talent (students), and ability (time), so there’s no excuse for not having a good web site that provides info about SG, instructions on how to join, minutes of meetings, on-line versions of the constitution and bylaws, and executive board profiles. At all levels, most SG sites in the state are atrocious or non-existent. Use the 2002 Student Leader “America’s Best Student Web Sites” winner in the SG category as a model: “The Hive,” site of the Students’ Association at the University of Rochester in New York (http://sa.rochester.edu).
6. Implement on-line voting. Some SGs say they’re not planning to implement on-line voting or are in the midst of considering it or are working out the technical difficulties. Meanwhile, other SGs say they’ve been doing it for years and don’t see it as a big deal to implement and that it boosted voter turnout. Hmmm…excuses, anyone?
7. Establish transition plans and processes. Most SGs across the state are finally embracing this. Having a transition manual and new-leader retreat should be mandatory given the turnover nature of the college population. Building a great SG that lasts beyond your administration means building a solid infrastructure and then documenting it, establishing a firm foundation from which the next batch can work whether they’re veterans or newbies. Leadership workshops that feature personality tests and team-building exercises also work well.
8. Strengthen relationship with student body. Does your constituency truly see you as advocates for them? Are you approachable? Do they know you care, or do they see you as self-serving politicians using their money for self gain, glory, or worse? Considering doing what some SGs are doing across the state: Conduct an honest survey that evaluates student perceptions, needs, and wants. You’ll be better for it in the end, and so will students.
9. Strengthen relationship with administration. Do school administrators respect you as leaders and as advocates for students? Do they take you seriously, lend you their ear, and work alongside you for the students’ and school’s best interests? During our judging, a lack of response from administrators is our first “red flag” that all is not right with an SG. Humility is the key here. Especially at public universities, the seven-figure budgets at large enrollment campuses often go to exec. board members’ heads. You’re there to serve students, respect the administration, and work with both as a liaison to accomplish what’s best for all.
10. Strengthen relationship with campus media. In spite of little things like the First Amendment, SGs still toy with school newspaper budgets when they don’t like the coverage. If the student-run TV or radio stations aren’t much to write home about, then their funding is also considered for the chopping block. Go ahead and mark this down in the transition manual: The campus press is off-limits. Don’t mess with it. Drop it. Forget it. Just fund it and be done with it. End of story.
Once that’s settled, you can work on developing a relationship built on mutual respect, but you may have to take the first step. And then you’ll thank them for being a watchdog to help you build a better SG administration—the kind they’ll want to write about!
For those SGs that don’t do these things or wonder what makes a great one, the list provides a nice place to start. For those that are following it well, go ahead and tackle those areas where you’re weak so that you excel in all areas, setting a “gold standard” of service to your constituency: students!
Copyright © 2006 Oxendine Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved