Members of Associated Student Government (ASG) have developed a plan to restructure their executive cabinet. The proposed changes would lower the number of cabinet positions from 15 to 12 with the goal of attempting to make cabinet more effective by condensing the number of positions.
Cabinet members are paid between $3,550 and $5,835 per year. Their jobs entail heading senate committees and sitting on university committees.
The bill will be voted on at tonight's senate meeting if it gains support from 12 senators, which is a fourth of the body. There can then be a motion to introduce it from the floor, which needs support from two-thirds of the senators to pass. By 9 p.m. Monday, they had support from 12 senators and 9 members of cabinet, making it possible to bring the bill to the floor.
The major changes include combining the Secretary for Alumni Affairs and the Secretary for Communications and Media Relations into one position. A new position called Secretary for Off-Campus Relations will combine the previous roles of the Secretary for Off-Campus Affairs and Secretary for Governmental Relations.
Additionally, there will no longer be a Secretary of the Treasury. This position will be replaced by a Secretary for Student Organizations. This person would co-chair the Funding and Audit Committee and would be in charge of communicating with student organizations, essentially taking over the non-financial aspects of the position. The other co-chair is the Secretary of Finance, who currently chairs the committee and will deal with the financial aspects of the role.
The Secretary of Safety, a position ASG voted to add earlier this semester, will no longer be a separate cabinet position. The duties of the newly created Secretary of Safety will be given to the current Secretary for Infrastructure and Sustainability, which will be renamed as the Secretary for Infrastructure, Sustainability and Safety.
The changes are led by Student Body President Meaghan Murtagh who is working with Vice President Vincent Smith, Secretary of Finance Caroline Weimer, Secretary for Academic Affairs Annika Fowler and Chief of Staff Madeline Zinkl.
Murtagh said she had been planning the changes for awhile, but it was the implementation of the Secretary of Safety that started the restructuring process.
"It's just gotten to the point that, because cabinet has gotten so big, it's really hard to collaborate," Murtagh said.
The plan to restructure was first introduced to cabinet on February 19. Cabinet members were asked to provide opinions on their positions and how they see people operating in that role in the future. Murtagh presented the plans to cabinet on March 3, which then underwent various rounds of revisions after hearing input from the cabinet members.
The students initiating this change researched the cabinet structure used at other universities, which had an average cabinet size of 10 people.
While most people on cabinet agreed that some type of restructuring needed to be done, many cabinet members and senators are not happy with how the process was handled, said Molly O'Donnell, secretary for infrastructure and sustainability.
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"It seems a little haphazard and, honestly, irresponsible to make changes halfway through the semester," O'Donnell said.
Cabinet election packets will be released Sunday, April 7, so people are already vying for those seats and have been planning to run for months. Instead of making these changes right before the elections, O'Donnell said she thinks they should be done in the fall or a year in advance of when they are actually implemented.
Murtagh said voting on the bill so close to cabinet elections is not ideal, but she has been working on this for awhile and did not want to rush it.
"A lot of the positions are pretty much the same," Smith said. "Because there's less [sic] positions, that's more competition ... That means you'll get better people in the roles, potentially."
The main people involved with making the changes are members of executive cabinet, despite the fact that only senators can author legislation.
Murtagh asked off-campus senator Megan Roberts and College of Engineering and Computing senator Kiril Kolev to author the bill concerning these changes. Murtagh said she chose them because they both have experience on ASG, and she thought they would be neutral in the matter.
Both senators said they wanted to write the bill because they agreed with the premise and thought it would improve senate as a whole. Although some people accused cabinet of essentially ghost-writing the legislation, Roberts and Kolev said they wrote the whole bill and were involved in the decision-making process.
"The whole thing has been a back and forth open conversation between us and them," Kolev said.
Murtagh consulted Scott Walter, the executive cabinet advisor, throughout the process, and she said he helped her to make the decision to implement the changes.
Walter declined to comment because he said it is too early in the process.
Originally, Murtagh's plans were more drastic and aimed to eliminate five positions out of the current 15. That original plan removed the Secretary for Communications and Media Relations position and instituted "directors," which would have been unpaid senate leadership roles. There would have been directors in charge of alumni relations, infrastructure and sustainability, and health, wellness and safety.
Murtagh said this plan was eventually abandoned because they decided to focus solely on executive cabinet, instead of changing the senate leadership structure as well.
"That's the senate's job to decide their leaders, and we kind of realized that we were interrupting their process, and we just wanted to focus on what we were in charge of," she said.
Some people like O'Donnell, who were told their positions were being modified, felt like their hard work was not appreciated.
"It was just disappointing to me, honestly, and that's since been rectified by us being able to advocate for ourselves," O'Donnell said. " We shouldn't have to feel like you have to beg for your job at the end of the day."
Without the $3,550 stipend from her cabinet position, O'Donnell said she likely would not be able to fulfill the duties of the role and would have aimed to become the president of a sustainability-related student organization instead.
"By making these positions unpaid, you're going to limit the diversity of people who could take that position because if you have financial issues, you're not going to be able to invest that amount of time," O'Donnell said.
The money from the salaries of the combined positions, which amounts to $9,250, will be given to Student Activities.
"I'm a fan of getting rid of both the positions we're getting rid of, honestly, because I don't think they're particularly useful," said Charles Kennick, secretary for off-campus affairs. "But then there's two salaries that I think we could find use for or find some other way to allocate that money."
There was also some concern about combining positions and putting the work of two people into one.
Secretary for Communications and Media Relations Michael Zele said he is not necessarily opposed to his position being combined with the Secretary for Alumni Affairs, but he does not think they are similar enough to work well together.
"I think the two goals are not very intertwined," Zele said. "Where I think the communications positions' goal is just to get the message out about student government to the students, I don't think it should be getting them connected with alumni. I think that should be its own separate entity or delegate those powers to someone else."
On the other hand, Secretary for Alumni Relations Jasmine Adkins said she thinks it is a positive change and that there is a lot of crossover between the positions, as she does a lot of outreach and uses social media within her role.
While some people are not completely in favor of the changes, it is also an opportunity to edit the bylaws and formalize the duties of each position. Currently, many actions cabinet members carry out are not explicitly listed in the bylaws.
"We've had this history where things are just assumed to be a person's duty, and if that person can't do it or doesn't do it properly how everyone expects it to, they get in trouble," Zele said. "If we lay things out more properly and more effectively, people can get things done."
None of these changes will be implemented unless they are passed at tonight's senate meeting. Executive cabinet will not be able to vote on the legislation.