SGA At BBC in “Worst-Case Scenario”

Photo of poll site at MMC taken by Zoe Chin/PantherNOW

Joshua Ceballos/Investigative Editor

In an unprecedented turn of events, the Student Government Council at the Biscayne Bay Campus will run without a president or vice president after this semester’s elections.

Student Government Association election season has officially begun on both campuses, but while the Modesto Maidique Campus has two candidates vying for the presidency, prospective candidates at BBC have either dropped out or were found ineligible to run.

“We’re living through the worst-case scenario right now,” said Jose Toscano, the senior director for student life and development.

As of now, only four individuals have qualified to run in the elections at BBC, and all of them are running for senator positions. Without a president or a vice president, the council is basically crippled because they cannot hold any meetings or get anything done.

Under normal circumstances, the vice president of a council presides over the senate for the first meeting until they can appoint a speaker to lead them. With no vice president, no one can run the senate. 

“We may have to postpone meetings into summer B,” said Larissa Adames, SGA advisor for BBC.

How did they get here? 

Current SGC-BBC President Pamela Ho Fung was going to run for reelection, but told PantherNOW that she did not follow through with her application due to personal reasons. 

But there’s another obstacle holding back applicants who do want to run: online classes.

As part of the SGA constitution, a candidate running for a specific campus- say BBC- must take at least 50% of his or her classes at that campus. So if someone wants to run for SGC-BBC president, at least half of his or her classes must be at BBC. The problem lies in where online classes count.

If a candidate is taking more online classes than in person, those courses count as MMC courses because FIU Online is based at MMC. So, a candidate taking more online courses wouldn’t qualify to run at BBC

“We were never expecting this situation to occur, and this is another challenge SGC-BBC faces,” said Ho Fung.

Even Adames was not clear about online classes counting towards MMC, saying there was a misunderstanding about where classes counted.

Before moving to a new online system, online classes were thought to count towards the campus where their college was based. Now an automated system determines where classes count, and it counts online classes at MMC. 

Catalina Nemmi, a former I-75 campus senator at BBC, also put her hat in the ring for president but was found ineligible because of her online classes. She told PantherNOW she changed one of her classes to in-person just to join the race, but it was too late after the deadline.

“Online classes used to save all of us [in SGC-BBC]. Now it’s gonna be hard for anyone to run,” Nemmi said. “It feels like the merge is more likely to happen.”

Nemmi referred to the merger of the two councils at MMC and BBC into one student government, a move that’s been considered for years but has been met with opposition from students at BBC. Recently, the idea of a merger has come up in SGC-MMC.

Without an executive branch to run SGC-BBC, this may be the perfect storm for merger talks to resurface.

Toscano said that if the idea of a merger does come up again, the students will have to examine how best to represent students at FIU as a whole, rather than by campus, and look at other models of joint councils like the Black Student Union.

“When BSU got together [into one council], they didn’t think they needed two presidents. How they represented students was more important,” Toscano said. “It’s not about campus specific, it’s about FIU. That’s my opinion.”

Still, SGA is in uncharted territory that leaves the government in a bad place going into the summer. Toscano has asked other universities like UCF, FAU and USF if they’ve experienced something like this before, but so far this is the first time a council has been stuck without an executive branch among these schools.

The current plan is to hold a special election in the summer and hope that someone steps up who is eligible to run for president, though there’s no plan in place if in the summer the same issue comes up.

Toscano said SGA needs to go back to the drawing board and see how to change the governing documents so that this kind of problem doesn’t arise again.

There were several times when past councils have run into the FIU Online conundrum and thought it might have been problematic, according to Toscano, but he said they never would have foreseen how bad it could actually be. 

Nowadays, more and more students take online classes, especially at BBC. Ho Fung said that because there’s so little class availability at BBC, online class is the only recourse.

“We’ve seen a decrease in engagement [at BBC] because of less class availability for students,” said Ho Fung.

When the new crop of senators comes in after this spring’s election in a few weeks, Toscano said the advisors will encourage them to take a thorough review of the constitution and see what needs to change about student representation in SGA.

“We need to adapt,” he said. “We have to look at our current policies and ask ‘does that work in our current model? Does that work in 2020?’”

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