The structure of student governance at Virginia Tech will change this spring, based on recommendations issued by the Task Force on the Future of Student Governance. In anticipation of this organizational change, Virginia Tech will phase out the Student Government Association (SGA) as the formal voice of undergraduate students in university governance at the conclusion of the 2021 spring semester.

The move will align student governance with the integrated governance model for the university and provide a stronger voice for students in university decision-making. 

“We are eager to a launch a robust, inclusive, and engaged Undergraduate Student Senate (USS) to participate in Virginia Tech’s system of governance,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Shushok, who co-chairs the 13-member Task Force on the Future of Student Governance with Vice President for Policy and Governance Kim O’Rourke.

“I am particularly pleased that students have had strong involvement in the formulation of this recommendation,” Shushok said. “The new USS provides a truly powerful learning opportunity and invites students into decisions that shape the environment so critical for their success.”

Miles Guth, an Honors College sophomore majoring in biomedical sciences in the College of Science, is interim president for SGA and supports the new governance structure. “The USS will create a more cohesive undergraduate representative organization and thus allow us to better advocate for the students to upper-level university administration,” he said.

The goals of the new USS include:

  • To increase and strengthen participation of undergraduate students in Virginia Tech’s system of governance.
  • To represent the diversity of undergraduate students through inclusive and accessible practices of governance.
  • To provide a powerful learning and leadership laboratory where students participate in decisions critical to student success.

“It has always been an uphill battle to have all the seats in SGA filled in a way that shows a true representation of the student body,” Guth said. “The new USS system ensures we are recruiting capable, dedicated, and service-minded leaders from all of campus and allowing their voices to be heard. By uplifting the USS, we can engage a whole new set of demographics and interested leaders who choose to serve their fellow students.”

“The new structure will more effectively represent the collective voice of the students by better integrating the Commission on Student Affairs with the new student senate,” said O’Rourke. “The task force is still formulating its recommendations, which will be shared with the President’s Committee on Governance for feedback and refined for submission to the president during spring semester 2021. With the president’s endorsement, specific proposals will proceed through the governance system.”

To assist in this transition, undergraduate students are invited to apply to serve on a 12-student governance transition team, which will include the three interim executive officers of SGA. This team will begin drafting a USS constitution and develop a protocol for electing the inaugural executive officers of the USS next fall. The USS constitution will be approved through the university’s governance process.

Applications for the undergraduate governance transition team are available now and selection will be complete by March 8. USS Transition Team Application. During the first week of October, an election will be held for Undergraduate Student Senate officers.

The Task Force on the Future of Student Governance, whose membership includes student leaders, faculty, and staff, began work in Sept. 2020, looking at ways to improve coordination and communication between governing bodies and more clearly define distinct roles and responsibilities of the various bodies involved in student governance and relationships between them. The recommended structure will foster inclusion, collaboration, and coordination among those bodies.

The Task Force on the Future of Student Governance has been working in tandem with the President’s Committee on Governance with the specific goal of developing a set of recommendations for redesigning the structure of student governance to more effectively represent the voice of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. The task force assessed the strengths and deficiencies of the current student governance structure, benchmarked best practices at other universities, and developed a set of recommendations tailored to Virginia Tech’s overall shared governance system to advance the vision for the university.

The Student Government Association traces its roots to 1966, when all civilian and cadet students united under a single constitution for student governance. It has remained largely unchanged since that time.

“Virginia Tech celebrates and appreciates the decades of leadership provided by SGA leaders. They have built a strong foundation for the new Undergraduate Student Senate,” said Shushok.

University Council passed a resolution on Feb. 15 for a framework that includes the Undergraduate Student Senate and a Commission on Undergraduate Student Affairs. The Joint Resolution to Revise Shared Governance at Virginia Tech was put forth mutually by the Commission on Faculty Affairs, the Commission on Administrative and Professional Faculty Affairs, the Commission on Staff Policies and Affairs, and the Commission on Student Affairs. The resolution includes a set of principles for shared governance and lays out a basic framework for the structure of the new governance system. The USS will be one of five university senates representing faculty, staff, and student constituent groups. 

Written by Sandy Broughton

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