After two USF students from the St. Petersburg campus were found to be ineligible to run in the Student Government (SG) elections in Tampa, the incident prompted SG to look into how it can bring all four campuses closer together.
However, for Reuben Pressman and Charles Terzian, it does not promise equal opportunity soon enough.
At 4:59 p.m. Friday, all SG candidates, Pressman, a senior majoring in entrepreneurship, and Terzian, a senior majoring in political science, received a candidacy certification e-mail to run in the SG Elections on the Tampa campus.
But seven minutes later, the latter two, both USF St. Pete students, received another e-mail from James Bodden, supervisor of Senate elections for the Election Rules Commission (ERC), stating there was a mistake.
“I apologize the previous e-mail was a mail merge mistake,” Bodden said in the e-mail. “We admire your enthusiasm and desire to be engaged in the Student Body Elections here at the University of South Florida, Tampa Campus. Unfortunately, SGATO has informed me that you do not meet the requirements contained in the Constitution of the Student Body of the University of South Florida at Tampa to become an eligible candidate in the Student Government Elections at the University of South Florida, Tampa Campus.”
The students said they were were disappointed to receive the update.
“When we received the disqualification e-mail, we were disgusted,” Pressman said. “We felt almost discriminated against, unable to represent ourselves.”
Bodden, a junior majoring in biomedical sciences and economics, said the reason for sending the initial message was because of the mail merger feature that Microsoft Outlook, an e-mail service, uses to send generic e-mails to a specific group of addresses, including those of Pressman and Terzian.
“The mistake was rectified almost immediately,” Bodden said. “I was like … ‘We made a mistake; we need to let them know that is a mistake immediately.'”
According to the SG Constitution, “All students by virtue of their active registration at the University of South Florida, Tampa campus are members of the Tampa Campus Student Body,” and Gary Manka, SG adviser, said because they are not enrolled on the campus, they can’t run in the election.
Pressman said that is a misinterpretation.
“(The Constitution) states that ‘at least’ students of the USF Tampa campus are granted all the rights and privileges of this Constitution, it does not exclude other students in the USF system from possession of those rights and privileges,” he said to Manka in an e-mail.
Manka said General Counsel required SG to decide last year whether candidates should be limited to just students enrolled at the Tampa campus. The Student Government Advising, Training and Operations (SGATO) office decided candidates must be enrolled students.
“We had to be consistent in everything that we do,” he said. “We will interpret and enforce equally, and that’s what I’m doing here. We had to have a precedent.”
Manka said in regard to Pressman and Terzian’s stance, that he asked Dean of Students Kevin Banks and Associate General Counsel Joanne Adamchak for advice, and they agreed with SGATO’s decision.
“That is the official stance of this office and the University,” Manka said. “I feel sorry for the candidates because the ERC messed up, and I’m sorry that it happened … but the bottom line is they would have never been able to run.”
Though not allowed to run in Tampa campus elections, students at other campuses are free to vote for Tampa’s next SG representatives. Manka said this is because the SG president is a Board of Trustees member.
“The SG president here should not only represent the Tampa campus, but the entire USF system as a whole because he or she is on the Board of Trustees,” Manka said. “I think the Board of Trustees is an issue here.”
SG held a meeting Monday with all of its branches and SGATO. On its agenda was a recommendation from Adamchak to implement a system so all campuses have an equal voice in BOT decisions.
The three options she recommended were to hold frequent board meetings with all campus presidents so the Tampa president hears their concerns, rotate the BOT seat by term or year or vote to determine who holds it.
Student Body President Cesar Hernandez said he has tried to follow the first option since the fall semester.
“The only real response has been James Scott (from St. Petersburg) and Brittany (Gleitsman from Sarasota-Manatee),” he said. “We’ve tried to e-mail Polytechnic, and they’ve never contacted me back.”
Hernandez, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences, said he admires Pressman and Terzian for wanting to run, but has to be realistic about having other campus presidents hold a BOT seat.
“We have to take into consideration that this campus has 40,000 people in it, so it has the larger voice. We have all three (SG) branches – Lakeland and Sarasota don’t. We have a $14 million budget. They don’t have nearly the same size. Are they going to directly represent the students?” he said. “If you rotate the seat, it makes it more difficult. What I do recommend is having a council where all student body presidents meet twice a semester and all can attend a BOT meeting.”
Hernandez said he hopes to have a formal policy finalized before he leaves office in May.
Pressman said he thinks rotating the seat is the best option.
“I am glad this has finally happened,” he said. “This, along with thinking we can do the best job to represent every student, this initiative was the purpose of us running. I think each student president should rotate the seat every meeting or year, along with multiple meetings between every president to discuss each campus and BOT issues and decisions.”