While many students were relaxing at home, on vacation or just spending time with their friends this summer, the members of Student Government were busy on campus preparing for another fall semester and a new freshman class. Since taking office in the spring, student body President Frank Harrison and Vice President Faran Abbasi have dealt with major changes, some of which are a first for any USF student body president.
Aside from Harrison’s normal duties of speaking at orientations, running the executive branch of SG and handling any day-to-day matters that might arise, he has an added set of duties because he is the first USF student body president to also be elected as chair of the Florida Student Association. The position earned Harrison a seat on the Florida Board of Governors, the highest educational governing body in the state. The BOG has the final word on issues such as tuition increases and the Bright Futures Scholarship program. As student body president, Harrison also has a seat on the University’s Board of Trustees, which is made up of thirteen members, including the faculty senate president and predominant leaders throughout the community.
“I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve. It has been an incredible experience and I really appreciate the trust put in me by the other presidents and their respective student bodies across the state,” Harrison said. “My job as a governor is to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of our state university system in delivering a quality education that is accessible to all different populations regardless of income to the state of Florida. My job as the chair of the Florida Student Association and the student representative on that board is to advocate what’s also in the best interest of the State University System in the context of what’s also in the interests of the students of the State University System who are the primary customers of that system.”
To accommodate Harrison’s extra responsibilities, some of the other positions in the executive branch have shifted duties so the operations will still flow smoothly. Those mostly affected by this change include Abbasi, as well as senate President Barclay Harless and senate Pro-Tempore Nathan Davison.
“With Frank elected to the BOG and his ongoing responsibility to the BOT,” Abbasi said, “we’ve kind of switched up our model of how we accomplish things around here on campus. Frank is almost completely external with the BOT and the BOG legislative issues and I play a role that mirrors Provost (Renu) Khator’s where I’m internal and I manage any campus-wide issues that arise along with managing the Cabinet.”
Harless agreed that their roles have changed and added that the changes in duties have only strengthened their bond as coworkers.
“The divide has almost come down, not between the branches – because we still have specific duties like he (Harrison) sets policy and we (the senate) legislate and we (the senate) fund – but the working relationship divide which may have existed in the past is very functional now. That’s why we’re getting so much done, because there’s a pretty united vision on where we want to go and what we want to see done this year,” Harless said.
So far, none of the four said they have encountered any problems with the new system and believe this will give them more opportunity to be out on campus spending time with students.
“We’ve adapted really well,” Harrison said. “I give all the credit to our staff and Faran and also senate leadership this year for really, really stepping up and taking more charge of what’s going on within the internal University.”
Another change students might notice about this term’s presidency will be a project that Harrison and his staff have deemed “the visible campaign.” Claiming that in the past students have suggested that the only time they see SG is during campaign season, Harrison and his SG staff members have decided to make themselves more accessible and visible to the common student.
“The one thing I’ve learned so far is that it doesn’t matter if your office door is open and you’re the most accepting and generous person of all time and you keep saying, ‘Come out and talk to me, come out and talk to me,’ people just don’t move unless you reach out to them,” Harless said. “You have to initiate it. You have to reach out your hand, and that’s what we’re doing this year. Now we are actively reaching out. Campaigning not to get votes, but just to talk to students.”
As part of the campaign, Harrison, Abbasi, Harless, Davison and others from the executive branch will be conducting a visible speaking tour for three weeks during this semester. During the first two weeks of school and homecoming week, Harrison said students will be able to find SG leaders walking around campus talking to students about anything they need or want.
“We’re planning to be out 7 to 7 at least every day and then (we will) be going out to campus events at night. Our objective is to try and help new students find their way to class, answer any questions that they may have about SG, and more than anything just show presence. We’ll have another week of our speaking tour during homecoming week when more people will be on campus,” Harrison said.
Other aspects of this new campaign include a weekly radio show called The FF Factor, hosted by Harrison and Abbasi, as well as an overhauled SG Web site, an updated version of the SG e-newsletter (a previous one had been attempted but never succeeded), and a formal statement of executive policy which will be written by Harrison after every major policy change involving the student body. This will be available to students, so they may stay informed as to Harrison’s official position on the issue.
Davison said he hopes the campaign does its job, but also hopes the recognition students show continues throughout the year.
“Collectively, we are doing a lot for the students whether or not the students know. It’s easy for me to say I’m going to help you out, but if I don’t have the manpower below me there’s nothing I can do about it. The problem with SG is that it’s sometimes seen as a shell for the two dozen people who are constantly working, and I don’t think that’s what it should be. I think everyone that’s here in any capacity … should be here to serve the students. I think everybody needs to actively be doing that,” Davison said.
Senators can expect to find a few changes this year as well. Davison plans to implement an optional leadership development program for the new interim senators to help them learn senatorial procedures and familiarize them with SG as a whole.
“Each year we have all the new senators coming and everyone is transitioning, but there hasn’t been historically a lot of time spent working with those people,” Davison said. “A lot of it has been picking it up as they go, and my objective this year was kind of to try and set some sort of infrastructure that for future years we’ll actually be able to have them come in,, and as soon as they come they will know they are part of something good, something great. In order to get them excited about where we’re going, we need to let them see where we’ve been.”
Harless said he has some ideas for change in senate himself, including the possibility of opening up internships to students who are interested in SG but don’t want to hold a position just yet. He also said that the biggest differences senators will find this semester are changes to the agencies in senate.
“Through several of the bills, we put more of the direct power in the hands of the (student body) president as opposed to (the Agency Review Board),” Harless said. “In the past there wasn’t a clear sort of who’s making decisions here. And no one had someone to go to to complain to.”
Although many changes are being made SG, all agreed that these new paths will lead them to the same goal: unifying the University.
“Student life is our No. 1 priority,” Abassi said. “We’ve been trying to integrate athletics on this campus, build up Greek life, empower student organizations to go forward and succeed as well as start a lot more traditions around campus.”