UT-Austin campus (Photo by John Anderson)
UT-Austin Student Government is crumbling. At the beginning of the fall 2021 semester, there were seven executive board members. Only three remain, and each of them faces possible impeachment at the start of next semester.
From sexual assault allegations to a lack of transparency and accountability, the SG Executive Board – the president, vice president, and five appointed directors – has come under repeated attack. The unrest started when senior Antony Rodriguez (not a member of UT student government) posted SG’s budget on social media in October and asked for transparency in how it spends money.
One of the revelations: Executive board members reserve $30,000 for their own tuition stipends, while only allocating about $16,000 for scholarships. Outrage spiraled from there. At the SG meeting the following Tuesday, Rodriguez said some members attacked his character and were interrogating him rather than taking responsibility: “During that meeting, people saw how toxic the environment is.”
Following the meeting, nearly 200 students joined a Twitter Space to discuss the situation. During that session and future Spaces – many of which lasted for hours – more issues with executive board members came to light. Students began questioning SG’s involvement with the Tejas Club spirit organization, which has come under scrutiny and drawn protests after some members were accused of sexual assault and the organization apparently attempted a cover-up.
Nicolas Gonzalez, at the time the administrative director on the executive board, was a member of Tejas. Students began demanding that SG disassociate from the organization. Board advocacy director Mackenzie Smith and chief of staff Meera Sam were both present at the October Twitter Space and told the crowd, after getting the OK, that SG would disaffiliate from Tejas.
That following day, Smith said she expected the executives were going to draft a statement against Tejas. But that didn’t happen. That evening, sexual assault accusations were raised against SG Vice President Ethan Jones, Smith said; she frantically tried to reach SG President Kiara Kabbara, who didn’t respond until the next morning. Executive members met to draft a statement on Friday, but Smith said the other members wouldn’t permit the use of words like “disassociate” or “disaffiliate” in the statement. By Monday, the statement still hadn’t been released, which caused Sam and Smith to resign.
“Maybe in the past student government has been a space for really big change to happen and a really good space for students to leverage their power [against the] administration. It’s not really doing that anymore.” – Amanda Garcia
The remaining board members then released a statement that Gonzalez would be stepping down, but did not address the accusations against Jones. He eventually resigned on Nov. 5, and Smith says a Title IX complaint has now been filed against him. Current SG executives and Jones did not respond to requests for comment.
Earlier that week, at its Nov. 2 meeting, the SG assembly introduced legislation to call a vote of no confidence; Walker Adams, the LBJ School of Public Affairs SG representative, said it was decided to hold that vote on Nov. 9. That evening, Graduate Student Assembly President Trip Davis, a member of Tejas, objected that the executive summary provided was longer than 200 words – a rule rarely observed for other SG legislation – but failed to stop the no-confidence motion that asked all three remaining executive board members to resign or face impeachment. None has yet stepped down.
The assembly also approved a measure to hold a campuswide referendum on Dec. 8 to see if the student body had confidence in the executive board, but Kabbara vetoed the measure. Articles of impeachment have been introduced against Kabbara; universitywide representative Amanda Garcia says the 31-member SG Assembly plans to introduce articles of impeachment next semester, at its Jan. 25 meeting, against communications director Madison Brown and financial director Grant Marconi. She says it’s uncertain if they’ll have the two-thirds majority needed to remove them from office.
Adams intends to introduce legislation to abolish the executive board next semester, which he said will be easier for other representatives to support than a full abolishment of SG. “Every year you get a new [SG] president, but you see the same dysfunction and so with that in mind, I fully support the abolishment of student government,” Adams said.
It wouldn’t be the first time students abolished SG. In the spring of 1978, following a petition for a referendum, students voted to abolish the student association. The vote happened after months of drama that started in the fall of 1977 and included the association’s president calling other leaders “résumé padders,” and other students complaining that representatives were looking out for the interest of regents and administrators after becoming a university “agency,” which meant its budget was funded by the UT System, according to reports in The Daily Texan at the time. SG was reestablished in the spring of 1982.
“Maybe in the past student government has been a space for really big change to happen and a really good space for students to leverage their power [against the] administration,” Garcia said. “It’s not really doing that anymore, a lot of people enter this space to be self-serving and for the title.”