College Council President Akash Kurupassery (22C) proposed a bill to mandate Student Programming Council (SPC) elections at the Student Government Association (SGA) meeting on Feb. 7, arguing that the bill would address how SPC has been “out of touch with the needs of the student body.” 

Though the bill unanimously failed to pass on Feb. 14 with 11 votes against it, a flaw in the legislative process has caused the bill to resurface. 

While discussing the bill with Kurupassery following the bill’s failure to pass, SGA College Council Representative Noah Marchuck (24C) found a discrepancy in the referendum portion of Kurupassery’s bill, which would have allowed the student body to vote on the bill. 

According to Marchuck, SGA President Rachel Ding (20Ox, 22B) had treated the bill and the referendum as two separate issues. The legislators went into session with the belief that if the bill failed, then the referendum should also fail by default. Instead, the legislators were supposed to make a motion to move the referendum out of the bill itself and vote on it separately. 

It’s unclear what will happen with the bill next, according to Marchuck and Kurupassery. 

Marchuck believes that the referendum would have passed if it was voted on originally. 

“I think the bill still would have failed, but we still would have had a referendum, and the student body still would have been able to vote on the bill,” he said.

Kurupassery said he was shocked at the outcome of the Feb. 14 vote because he did not expect it to be rejected. He attributes SGA’s decision to a type of elitism, where the organization pretends to know what is best for the student body, rather than going to them directly for their opinions.

“The legislators thought that they knew what was best,” Kurupassery said. “Now the legislators are facing a dilemma where the student body thinks that democratic elections are a good idea, but they have already voted against the bill.” 

A bill written in 2017 established that the student body would no longer vote to elect the SPC president. SPC previously reverted to internal elections for its vice president, according to a 2015 bill written by former Vice President of Programming Michael Nathin (15B) that limited voters to SPC members only. He thought this would reduce election-induced stress on candidates and argued that the vice president’s roles are strictly internal.

Nathin conceded that it was proper for the SPC president to be chosen via a university-wide election since SPC uses the student body’s money. However, the vice president exercises no direct control over SPC spending.

Though Kurupassery’s bill was rejected, Marchuck is one of several legislators drafting a revised bill in collaboration with SPC. 

“Akash had good sentiments in requesting transparency from SPC, which I think is important,” Marchuck said. “The issue I had was that having a campus-wide election seemed to be a one-size-fits-all that doesn’t really work.”

Kurupassery’s bill initially addressed numerous individual concerns, like SPC’s relationship with the Oxford campus, but included one solution for all the small working parts. 

Marchuck said that the new bill would counter the original bill by addressing SPC staffing, its relationship with the Oxford Student Activities Committee and increased transparency. He also aims to create a liaison position between SGA and SPC and include more diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. 

SPC has previously been predominantly white, Marchuck said, so he is hopeful that, starting next year, SPC will form a diversity, equity and inclusion panel and have more Oxford-specific recruitment. Marchuck expects the reformed bill to pass because it addresses the lack of communication between student government and SPC.

Kurupassery said that the legislators’ solutions solve parts of the problem, such as improving communication with a liaison between SPC, SGA and Oxford SGA, but the underlying issue persists. 

He believes that SPC controlling almost half a million dollars of students’ money is enough reason to give students a say through a direct election. SPC’s funds come from the student activity fee, and SGA awarded the organization $462,700 for the 2021-2022 academic year. 

“I think it’s incredibly tragic that the legislators don’t trust students to make this decision for themselves,” Kurupassery said.

Additionally, it is still unclear as to how Marchuck’s bill will interact with Kurupassery’s original bill, now that the legislative error is causing the issue to be contested again.

“I’m going to potentially re-propose it,” Kurupassery said. “If SGA legislators oppose it, then I don’t know what will happen.”

In regards to the initial version of the bill, SPC President Thomas Heagy (22B) said that the organization will continue to discuss new initiatives with SGA representatives, including forthcoming action to solidify both existing and future methods of student engagement.

Heagy added that the proposed bill referenced “relevant and genuine concerns” about the council, so SPC is affirming the importance of improving transparency, communication and collaboration.

However, Kurupassery expressed concerns with a “watered-down version” of his proposed bill.

“The solutions in the new bill would solve some of the ramifications of what I was saying, but I don’t think they address the problem that SPC is not accountable to the student body at large,” Kurupassery said. “The easy question is whether or not legislators trust students to choose if the SPC president is elected, and the answers they came down to seemed to be no. And that’s just scary to me.”

Kurupassery also said that the ball is in the legislators’ court, and it is up to them to see his efforts and the public response.

“It’s incredibly tragic that the legislators don’t trust students to make this decision for themselves.”

Update 3/3/2022 at 4:25 p.m.: The article has been updated to clarify that Heagy’s comment is in reference to the initial version of the SPC bill.