Student government evolved, kept representation goal the same

Hannah Nusser and Hannah Nusser

Through the years, student governances have come and gone. But as this week’s student elections commence, students can be reminded that the unwavering goal of student government has been dedicated to representing the voice of the student body.

Gary Hess, a retired history professor, said University student governments are always being criticized for not doing more.

“That’s just the nature of student government, I’m afraid, because the leadership only has a year to do what they’re going to do, so it’s really so hard to [increase] your effectiveness, I think,” he said.

Today, students are not afraid to speak their mind if the Undergraduate Student Government does not step up to the plate, said Jill Carr, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and dean of students. There have been students in the past two years who have challenged student government.

“I think that that’s been OK because it makes the group take a look at itself and say ‘Oh, we didn’t realize we were coming across in this fashion — what can we do to change that perception to better educate campus about what we’re doing?'” Carr said.

Carr has been working with student government for the past four years.

“I think what I’ve seen in the short time that I’ve been working with them is that each year there is an increased level of interest in being … more visible to the whole campus [by] making sure that the voice of the students is being represented in as many places as possible,” she said.

Carr said USG’s biggest issue is making sure the student body’s voice is heard.

“What I see is their biggest issue is making sure … that they are at the table, so-to-speak, where the decisions are made that affect the lives of students on this campus, whether it be a tuition increase or selecting a new administrator or development of new policy they want to have their input,” Carr said. “They’ve been really clear about that.”

Hess said he believes the effectiveness of student government each year partly depends on the University president. He said USG was most influential in the late 1990s and early 2000s, during the Sydney Ribeau administration.

“I think that was a much more conscious effort on Ribeau’s part than we’ve had from any other president,” he said.

According to James Robert Overman’s ‘The History of Bowling Green State University,’ the first movement toward a student government was in 1915. The first campus-wide student voice was not until 1935, with the establishment of a Student Council.

During President Frank Prout’s administration, changes were made to the organization of the Student Council and its name was changed to the Student Senate in 1947.

According to Overman’s book, the Student Senate, and its predecessor the Student Council, functioned successfully, but was sometimes relatively inactive. Students felt neither governing body properly represented students’ opinions, and complaints arose that student governments were subject to too much faculty domination.

In 1959 a new student body organization was established, including executive officers, a student cabinet, a student council and the student court. “This organization was quite active in trying to control and direct the student demonstrations of 1961, although it was not responsible for their outbreak,” according to Overman’s book.

Through the 1960s, student government went through tough times as enrollment grew and the Student Council struggled to develop a stable relationship with the administration. Protests broke out in 1961 when frustration with President Ralph McDonald’s restrictive policies finally erupted among students and faculty.

Hess said he remembers the revolt of 1961 because it was ignited by students, mostly freshman, and then faculty joined in. It wasn’t until later in the protests that members of student government reluctantly joined, he said.

“That revolt of ’61 was sort of legendary among people who lived through that era,” Hess said.

On April 26, 1972 the Student Council voted to abolish itself, according to a BG News article, and the Student Government Association was put into place.

After years of criticism from students, according to an April 1, 1982, BG News editorial, the SGA diminished and the Undergraduate Student Government students know today held its first meeting on March 31, 1982.