According to its Constitution, the University Student Government (USG) shall be the sole, unified, autonomous, and democratic representative body of the students. Its power emanates from the student body, and it shall, at all times, be accountable to the student body. But when things took a turn for the worse last General Elections (GE), where only 35.90 percent of the undergraduate student body voted, students have, more than ever, shown signs of indifference and distrust towards the USG.
Recently, however, the USG was able to redeem itself when it successfully championed the students’ rights to be heard. The USG clamored for the disapproval of the proposal to move the University Break from Fridays to Mondays, an initiative that was introduced by the University administration. When 95.06 percent of 3,338 students surveyed by the USG expressed they were not in favor of the change, the USG took to the Academics Council to defend the students’ stand on the matter. Ultimately, it was a victory for the students.
As the academic year nears its end, The LaSallian examines the challenges that the USG faced, the achievements they reaped, and the students’ assessment of the USG’s performance for the academic year 2015-2016.
Challenges throughout the year
The USG faced numerous issues during the year. Among other complications, the failure of elections was a major setback that pushed the start of their period of office to the second term of the academic year, leaving them with two terms to collaborate among one another and to implement initiatives. Nonetheless, the elected officers pledged to pursue the plans and projects they had for the year.
In an interview with The LaSallian last year, USG President Pram Menghrajani anticipated the challenge of the late start that resulted from the delayed elections. “The limited time in office definitely makes us think of the importance of the programs we want to implement, and [we] made sure that whatever plans should be enacted are important, current, and relevant,” she shared. Other members of the USG echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the need for urgency.
As an example, USG Treasurer Zed Laqui narrates that one of the issues the USG faced as a result of the shortened period was in relation to the tuition fee increase (TFI). “Right after we were [proclaimed as officers], we had to start with all the initiatives with regard to [TFI] already because of the changes in the academic calendar,” he shares. The Office of the Executive Treasurer spearheaded the USG’s efforts on consulting the student body regarding the TFI. Because the policy on TFI in universities is governed by the Commission on Higher Education, the deadline for the proposal was not moved from its original date, which falls on February 28 each year. This year’s set of USG officers were inducted on November 6.
USG Vice President for Internal Affairs Micah Fernando shares that although the shortened period proved to be a challenge, USG officers were able to properly plan ahead their projects even before running for their respective positions.
Meanwhile, another issue that the USG persistently faces is the lack of student participation, as seen for instance in the failure of elections and of the plebiscite in 2015 and 2014, respectively. Fernando asserts that responding to this issue involves a continuous consultative and reflective approach.
Another problem the USG encountered was a deficit in the Student Government Assistance Fund for the year. Laqui laments that the deficit has prevented the USG from providing student loans, but he remains confident that they would be able to do so again before the year ends.
In addition, the USG Executive Board (EB) was comprised of candidates who were members of different parties and an independent candidate. The members of the EB made it a point to immediately convene and reconcile their plans for the student body.
Achievements of USG 2016
For Menghrajani, the victory of the student body in making their stand on the U Break known was the highlight of the academic year for the USG. “It was the first time, I think, that the admin was able to hear out the concerns of the student body and actually implement what we [suggested],” she comments. A team led by Menghrajani presented the stand of the student body regarding the proposal to the Academics Council on July 13. A couple of hours later, the Council announced that the University will be retaining its four-day schedule.
Moreover, this year, the USG’s Executive Board (EB) members were able to accomplish various University-wide projects and events, such as the Animo Rally and University Week. Overall, their projects were targeted towards streamlining information dissemination, empowering and engaging students, addressing pressing issues, and improving their services.
In order to ensure easy access to information, the Office of the Executive Secretary (OSEC) revamped the USG website and started the AA and LA Express to keep the students updated. The College of Computer Studies also launched ACCESS to maximize social media as a means to release necessary and relevant information. The Office of the President (OPRES) also organized the largest Convention of Leaders (COLE) last January 4, with 435 attendees from various student sectors coordinating and streamlining their activities and events.
Various USG offices also set up different conferences to provide avenues for students to express their ideas on national concerns. Some examples would be the Philippine Youth Summit of the Office of the Vice President for External Affairs (OVPEA), the International Youth Summit of the Liberal Arts College Government, and the School of Economics Government’s (SEG’s) Action Research Program. The Office of the Vice President for Internal Affairs (OVPIA) in collaboration with the Legislative Assembly (LA) launched the Student Reservation System which allows students to reserve classrooms even without an organization MLS account. They are also working on establishing Animo Dialogues, to provide an avenue for students to express their ideas on different issues and plans. The Science College Government (SCG) and Business College Government (BCG) have also launched programs to allow students to volunteer and help outside the University.
OVPIA, OVPEA, and Office of the Executive Treasury (OTREAS) have also made efforts to address the students’ pressing concerns. To ease financial concerns, OTREAS worked with the De La Salle Alumni Association (DLSAA) to provide more scholarship opportunities. On the other hand, OVPEA created Pahiram Emergency Kits for organizations to borrow during their activities. OVPIA is hoping to ease transportation concerns by partnering up with Uber to establish future Uber hop lines.
Other than creating new programs, the USG also worked on improving their current services for the students. The Judiciary revamped their internal organization to maximize their roles and responsibilities, and improved their magistrate training system. OTREAS also successfully paid all the current debts of the USG, and allocated more funds to assist in student government projects. Finally, OPRES enabled students to evaluate and grade the USG via MLS accounts.
With only a few weeks of term remaining, the USG still has projects being carried out. Fernando describes a plan to create a Lasallian hotline in partnership with Uber, with relevant drop-off points and the setting up of “Uberpool,” a carpooling community for Lasallians. He emphasizes that the plan is long-term effort to let Lasallians take part in the issue of traffic congestion, and that for the mean time they are focussing on taking gradual steps.
Likewise, Laqui expresses that OTREAS is focussing on promoting financial policies and on conducting studies on the various costs in the University to aid the succeeding OTREAS in crafting a proposal for the next multi-sectoral committee on student fees. The financial policies include full payment tuition discount, alternatives to the 60-40 payment scheme, and the over-the-counter extension payment in additional banks.
Meanwhile, Menghrajani shares her hope that the next batch of USG officers could further improve the consultation process with the student body. “[The USG] still has a disconnect with not only the administration but also the students,” she describes.
Menghrajani also adds that among the issues to be faced by the next batch of officers are the appalling incidence of drug use and drinking among students and an increase in the number of organizations applying for accreditation in the University.
The student perspective
In a survey conducted by The LaSallian, students were asked to grade the USG using DLSU’s own grading system, from 0.0 to 4.0. With 120 respondents from all seven colleges, the average score given was 2.583. The most common grade given was 3.0 (36.7 percent), followed by a 2.5 (20 percent) and 2.0 (14.2 percent).
When asked regarding their reasoning behind the grading, responses were mixed.
“The USG this year performed relatively well,” says James* (II, AEF-BSA). Other respondents share the same judgement, saying that the USG has been helpful and active, while properly representing the students.
“I think that the USG has made efforts to properly represent the students in different aspects,” comments Migs* (II, BS-INSYS).
Sam* (IV, AE-BSA) commends the USG, saying the officers this year performed better than those last year. Fellow senior year student Ricky* (IV, AE-MGT) agrees, saying, “The USG Executive Board, I believe, has improved with regard to focusing on real matters—less parties/projects and more student representation. The activities that they do conduct seem to be better managed or have improvements in terms of [what is being offered].”
While a good number of respondents have a positive perception of the USG, a certain portion evaluated their performance in a bad light. Most of their concerns ranged from the insufficiency of the USG’s performance to lack of student representation.
“There is still a huge room for improvement, especially in terms of college-wide and University-wide projects,” laments Carlo* (III, AEF-BSA).
“More proper student representation,” asserts Brendan* (II, BS-APC). Ria (III, BS PHY-EC) alludes to the different officers’ promises, sharing, “They promised a lot, and yet, minimal change has been felt throughout their term in the USG.”
What the different students can agree on, however, is the relevance of the USG. A whopping 91.7% of respondents still believe that the USG, for better or worse, is still a necessary presence in the halls of the University.