With great power comes great responsibility. But does the Student Government Association have great power?
Maybe not. For some, SGA represents an irrelevant organization with ambitious goals and few visible results. Requiring approval on all passed bills, SGA is, admittedly, reliant on the support of administrators.
Yet, all but two of the 46 bills passed by the student senate last year were addressed. Charged with representing the student body and their interests, administrators frequently visit SGA to field student opinion on upcoming policies (most recently, the possibility of mandatory dining dollars).
Jacob Clark, senior in College Scholars and a senator for the past two years, believes SGA meets a crucial need for an institution as large as UT. Even so, student apathy undermines SGA's work. Last year, 75 percent of students failed to vote in the SGA election.
"The relevancy of SGA, the power of SGA, is vested in how many people vote," Clark said. "This is a very lofty goal, but if 80 percent of students voted in the next election, then the administration would have to take SGA very, very seriously.
"'SGA is not relevant so I'm not going to vote,' is a bad idea. What you should be saying is, 'Do I want SGA to be relevant, yes or no.' And if you want it to be relevant, you need to vote."
When a bill passes through Senate and is confirmed by the SGA executives, Dean of Students Maxine Davis then takes over, either sending an email to the appropriate office, handling the item personally, or directing attention to Associate Deans Jeff Cathey and Ken Gassiot.
As an advisor for SGA, Davis, alongside Cathey and Gassiot ensure that student's desires are communicated. Although no administrator is obligated to meet with SGA, Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and others choose to play an integral role.
In essence, the body submits recommendations to administrators.
"I know for a fact the chancellor values SGA. Every semester the chancellor has a series of luncheons with SGA leadership," Dean of Students Maxine Davis said. "[The luncheons] gives them an opportunity to ask questions and to voice their concerns. And I can say, sometimes when issues are brought up in those lunch meetings and heard again, they are addressed."
Davis acknowledges that in a university this size, it can be easy for issues to be forgotten about, and sees SGA as the means for change to happen.
"Most of the things they see and the bills they are passing, the university is aware of, and they're generally being discussed in some way," Davis said.
Through activities like SGA President Jake Baker's bi-monthly address to the student body and growing social media presence, Kelsey Keny, a junior in journalism and electronic media and current SGA press secretary, maintains that SGA's efforts do affect positive change on campus.
"People are really working hard this year to make every effort to reach out to the different students here and to communicate those interests and those wants and needs to administratore, Keny said.
In the past, the student government associations of Knoxville and other UT system schools have met in Nashville to advocate on behalf of higher education and freedom in the budget. In addition, SGA has worked to provide greater freedom in housing choices and immediate parking ticket notifications.
However, as with any organization, internal discord can arise.
"There are going to be people ... who are in it to make themselves look better," Clark said. "But dismissing the value of it or excusing yourself from the process because certain individuals aren't taking it as seriously as you would like, or have poor motivations, the whole world is like that."
Despite these criticisms, Keny feels that this year SGA is "going to make an impact."
Though Keny believes it is the job of senators to introduce themselves to constituents, Vice President Paige Atchely emphasized the necessity of mutual effort, on the part of the senator, SGA as a unit, and the student.
"I think the student government is in charge of letting all the students know we are a voice and they actually do have a senator, and I think the senators are personally responsible for making sure their constituents know who they are," Atchley said. "And I do think a part of it does fall on the student, because if they do have a problem or an issue they do need to actively seek who can help them, but then the circle goes back to SGA has to make sure they are doing their part to make sure they are an available resource."
The list of representatives for Graduate Student Senate, Freshman Council, Faculty Senate and Student Senate can be found online at http://sga.utk.edu.
Both the President and Vice President have office hours in Room 315 of the University Center. Baker has office hours by appointment and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Atchley has office hours Tuesday and Thursday from 9:40 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. and can be reached at email@example.com.