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NISG: Just What Do They Do?

LEZIGA BARIKOR

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“Are they in charge of student organizations, by chance?” asked Brenna Wolfe, freshman social science teaching major.

Confusion on what the  Northern Iowan Student Government (NISG) does is common on campus. However, NISG vice president Paul Andersen said the student government can play a major role in the day-to-day life of UNI students. They fund student organizations, work to influence university policy and can give voice to individual student concerns.

Andersen said influencing university policy can affect students on a personal level.

He said he helped an international student who had to leave suddenly during the end of last semester to see his ailing father and later attend his funeral. The timing of these events led to the student not being able to finish his finals, and he was told that he would have to redo the entire fall semester.

“So what I did was email the provost and the associate provost and let them know that this was the situation,” Andersen said.

Andersen said he made sure the issue was being handled by the appropriate people in administration from that point, and that this is just one example of how NISG can advocate for students.

But many students aren’t aware of NISG’s role in student life, like Morgan Bellile, junior financial institutions major.

“I don’t know too much, but I know that they’ve been working on diversity around campus a lot last semester, so I’m guessing that’s like a lot of what they’ll be doing this semester too,” Bellile said.

“I think they help maybe organize various organizations and school events,” said Michael Niedert, sophomore geography major. “I don’t know too much about it.”

Many students were unsure of NISG’s job on campus.

The general consensus was that they did not know much of anything about the operations of NISG.

“I guess I don’t really pay attention to it,” said junior communications major, Brianne Baylor.

This has been an issue brought up multiple times, but it has especially been highlighted by Paul Andersen.

Andersen stated that his goals for this semester is for NISG to become a resource students can come to with any issues they are having.

NISG’s power is spread out between three main branches: executive, legislative and judicial. The most active parts of NISG are the Senate and the Executive Branch, according to Speaker Parker Bennett.

The Executive Branch, consisting of the President, Vice President, Director of Administration, Director of Governmental Relations, Director of Public Relation and Director of Diversity and Student Life, is the most involved with working alongside the University administration on policy. These are also the paid positions in NISG, as is the speaker position.

“We all try to work effectively with administration and that means always maintain a respectful relationship with administrators and still trying to be the advocate for students,” said President Katie Evans.

The legislative branch of NISG is in charge of approving new student organizations, approving funding requests and sitting on a variety of committees, among other things.

The judicial branch of NISG is in charge of hearing student grievances, impeachments and running elections, though they are the least active branch.

This school year, NISG was faced with a number of personnel changes. Many Senate seats and lower cabinet positions in NISG started out empty, which is not unusual due to graduation and students pursuing other interests.

There have been more unusual personnel changes as well, most notably the resignation of Vice President Renae Beard in the wake of a failed attempt by certain senate members to convene a committee to investigate President Katie Evans and whether there were grounds for potential impeachment.

Due to these issues, the Senate is currently reviewing their constitution and by-laws to clarify the process of impeachment and the nature of powers in given positions, especially the judicial branch.

Nathan Davis, chief justice, says that the Supreme Court is looking to make amendments to the constitution to define their roles better.

“We don’t feel utilized year long,” said Davis. They have discussed the issue with the executive and legislative branch, and they hope to be able to bring forth new legislation by election time. The Senate is also looking to further clarify the responsibilities of all the roles of the executive branch.

Much of what NISG does in their constitution pertains to financing and advising student organizations.

“We’ve seen . . . [an] increase in the number of new student organizations every year and increases in the number of requests for funding for student organizations every year, which is good thing,” said Lisa Kratz, who has been the advisor to NISG for over nine years.

Director of Administration and Finance, Abbie Shew, said the increase in student organizations led to a lot of unanticipated cost.

The funding for NISG comes from the Student Service Fee that all students pay when they choose to come to UNI and can be found under the Student Service Fee website tab. According to Shew, the use of these funds went up, but the amount of funds did not, forcing NISG to make many budget cuts.

Despite all this, Shew said that NISG’s goal is to continue to fund student organizations so any students who want to participate can do so freely without worrying about things like membership dues.

NISG also has their own programs like the Bike Share program, the Panther Shuttle, the bus route, and the College Readership Program, according to Bennett.

Bennett said that, besides “tangible” projects, NISG responds to issues on campus and policies proposed by the university administration.

NISG has set their sights on mental health issues on campus. In a recent senate meeting, they questioned Shelley O’Connell, executive director of health and recreation services, over a proposed charge to students seeking psychiatric care. Many senators took issue with the charge, and they ultimately drafted a resolution that raises questions about the lack of research furnished as to the implications of the fee.

“Time is probably one of the biggest limitations,” Evans said when asked how NISG’s power is limited. “It takes a long time to [enact] change on a campus and a lot of dedicated people. It doesn’t take just one person with one good idea. You have to then vet that idea on other students and with other staff administration and then make a sort of proposal, and learning that process is not easy.”

NISG has been working on many initiatives this year beyond diversity and mental health awareness.

“For the most part there isn’t anything student government wouldn’t try to change I think, if students thought it was necessary because that is our role to be the voice for students,” Evans said.

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NISG: Just What Do They Do?