By CHLOE BENOIST · October 29, 2008 at 10:54 pm
“You matter. He can make ASG matter too,” promised flyers on campus last spring, when Neal Sales-Griffin was running for president of the Associated Student Government.
As the first full quarter of his presidency unfolds, Sales-Griffin and ASG’s executive board have laid the foundations for change across most parts of ASG. But in addition to debating constitutional changes and setting up new events, the ASG executive board has been trying to undertake an even bigger challenge: changing the mentality within ASG.
The executive board has decided to generate new pilot vice-president and human resources director positions to ensure the accountability and commitment of members of the student government, something that current ASG exec members say has been lacking in the past.
“Everyone in ASG in the past tried and cared and was passionate and put a lot of hard work and did some great things, but the accountability across the board was not necessarily there,” remembers External Relations Chairman Samir Pendse. “I’ve been in committees where nothing happened, you’d literally be in the room and do nothing, and nothing bad would happen.”
Another major change to the structure of the ASG Senate has been the implementation of an interview process to apply for committees. For many, this has changed the attitude of senators in regards to their work.
“I’ve been in ASG committees for the past two years, a lot of people are in it for maybe the wrong reasons, a lot of people are in it just to be on a committee and they don’t even really know what it’s about,” Pendse said. “When there’s an interview and an application, that gets rid of that sense of entitlement that a lot people had in the past.”
And the difference is allegedly already visible.
“People are more invested in the process. They feel it’s much more of a responsibility of theirs to follow through with everything,” said Student Services Vice President Nate Perkins.
Sales-Griffin said he hoped that the new energy seen in the committees would extend to other aspects of ASG.
“We want this culture of action and collaboration to be contagious,” he said.
ASG Senator Scott Belsky has seen the change in mentality that Sales-Griffin is trying to implement firsthand.
“Neal is trying to get a lot of senators to coordinate effort outside of Senate to function properly as an organization whose functioning isn’t limited to an hour on Wednesdays,” he said.
These modifications come down to one word: accountability. Recently released attendance records showed that an overwhelming majority of senators have not attended meetings so far this year, a trend Sales-Griffin is trying to reverse.
“ASG has been loose or lenient in the past in terms of attendance,” Sales-Griffin said. “Exec Board wants to make strong point in terms of being on time and in attendance.”
The executive board has been discussing ways to make senators more accountable, including the possibility of losing one’s seat after too many absences.
“We’re trying to engage people more,” Sales-Griffin said. “My goal is by the end of the year to have full attendance at Senate.”
Executive board members have also started to spread out throughout the room during Senate meetings, as opposed to being huddled together, in an effort to be more accessible to senators.
ASG has also increased its transparency, allowing reporters to attend one of their weekly executive meetings, something that hadn’t been done since 2004.
“It was all confidential and secret. We’re trying to change a lot of that type of stuff,” Sales-Griffin said.
Executive board members are also planning on having office hours to talk to students and weekly e-mail senator updates. ASG also sent its first student quarterly report last week.
“It’s not something that we perfected yet in terms of distribution, but I think it’s saying a lot in terms of transparency that we’re willing to put all this information out there and trying to make sure that it reaches everyone on campus,” Sales-Griffin said.
As a member of ASG for the past two years, Pendse has seen firsthand the drastic changes in mentality that have taken place in the student government since the last election.
“A lot of good things happened in the previous administrations too, but I think that the attitude was ‘we’ll do as much as we can, given the circumstances,’” Pendse said. “When Neal came in, the shift was ‘we won’t be satisfied with what we have… We’ll make a new reality.’”
“Jon Webber was all about ad-hoc things and working with what you have,” he said. “He [Sales-Griffin] is kind of the polar opposite from Jon Webber.”
“I think the mentality is a lot more about taking action,” Senator Steven Eilers said. “I feel as though the senators are more informed this year compared to last year about what they can or can’t do, more people speak up because they know the rules.”
According to Pendse, the whirlwind of change going through ASG this year is likely to have a visible effect on the organization in the future.
“It’s a totally new future going for ASG for the next few years,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of the benefits and ramifications of this next year and in the year two and three after that. It’s definitely setting a foundation for what’s to come.”
But change might be difficult to adapt to for certain members of Senate, according to Hariharan Vijay, an ASG senator, member of the Committee of Rules and North by Northwestern staffer.
“Some thought that this was too radical of a change too soon,” Vijay said. “It’s hard to explain 15 pages of the constitution and explain it efficiently in one or two Senate meetings.”
But Vijay added that he didn’t think reforms would be completely bogged down if Senate opposed change.
“Even if the changes get shot down, Neal has the authority to form them as ad-hoc positions, which is what I think we’re going to end up doing if Senate isn’t open to the idea,” he said. “You’re not going to know if these things won’t work unless you try them out, and even if they don’t work, it isn’t exactly going to make things worse.”
Sam Barnett contributed reporting.